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The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Quiet American

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Greene’s brilliant, thought-provoking, novel is set in Vietnam. It is 1952 and the country is trying to regain independence from the French. This is the background for a story that is ostensibly about love and political intrigue, yet works well on a symbolic level - the characters representing the complex and ambiguous interests of the Americans and British in a post-colonial Far East.

The narrator is Fowler, a dissipated English journalist who sees himself as a ‘reporter’ not a ‘correspondent’. He believes he can report dispassionately on the war without being involved – it is only when he experiences it at first hand that he is forced into engagement. His love for Phuong, a young Vietnamese woman, brings him into conflict with Pyle, the eponymous Quiet American. The title hints at the layers of irony within this short but dense novel: as the French inspector says, “yes, a very quiet American” when Pyle’s body is found.

Fowler’s commentary belies the cynical, world-weary persona that he presents to Pyle: “I thought that if I smelt her skin it would have the faintest fragrance of opium, and her colour was that of the small flame. I had seen the flowers on her dress beside the canals in the north, she was indigenous like a herb, and I never wanted to go home”.

The film of the novel was due to be released in the autumn but in the patriotic fervour following 9/11 it was delayed because, above all, it is a criticism of American interventionist foreign policy that is as relevant today as it was then.

The Lovereading view...

One hundred years ago a writer was born who captured the essence of the 20th Century like no other: Graham Greene.

To mark this, literary publishing house Vintage is reissuing eight titles with new introductions by contemporary authors such as JM Coetzee and Zadie Smith.

If you like Graham Greene you might also like to read books by Piers Paul Read and Brian Moore.


The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Into the intrigue and violence of Indo-China comes Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy through a mysterious 'Third Force'. As his na-ve optimism starts to cause bloodshed, his friend Fowler, a cynical foreign correspondent, finds it hard to stand aside and watch. But even as he intervenes he wonders why: for the sake of politics, or for love.

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A master of storytelling * The Times * One of the finest writers of any language * Washington Post * A superb storyteller - he had a talent for depicting local colour, a keen sense of the dramatic, an eye for dialogue, and skill in pacing his prose * New York Times * There has been no novel of any political scope about Vietnam since Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American * Harper's * It might be nearly 60 years since The Quiet American was first published, but it still evokes the exotic promise of the Orient, and the troubled relationship Vietnam has with the West * Wanderlust *

About the Author

Graham Greene
Graham Greene was born in 1904. He was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. Graham Greene died in April 1991. Among the many people who paid tribute to him on his death was Kingsley Amis: 'He will be missed all over the world. Until today, he was our greatest living novelist.'

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Book Info

Publication date

7th October 2004


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Vintage Classic


208 pages


Literary Fiction
Reading Groups
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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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