Friday, May 07, 2004

The quiet America...

Been reading Greene's The quiet American. I'd not seen the film, nor read the reviews, so I kind of went in blind. It was a revelation.

Greene's understated prose, bone bare plot and command of the essence of thriller writing provided the vehicle for what amounts to a critique of the esence of modern war. Every inch of this books is applicable to the action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Briefly, its a tug of love story between an English journalist and an American agent in French colonial Vietnam's dying days fighting over the affections of Phuong, a local woman. Pyle, the American, is backing local General Thé as the vehicle for American policy - as per the idealistic writings of his foreign affairs guru. Pyle winds up dead, at the hands, more or less of Fowler.

Points of note are:

1) The obvious control of the press, and the journalists willingness to put up with being controlled and embedded with the French military.
2) The guerilla war being fought in Saigon, with restraunts with meshes to stop grenades being thrown in.
3) The unreliable clients of both the Americans and the French, as they wage their versions of war against the insurgents.
4) The blurring of political principle and personal feeling, in Fowler's actions.

All the more realistic because Greene himself lived in vietnam in that period, smoking his head off with opium.

This book alone is a vindication of realist fiction, and the power of art to delineate reality. Its tensions and complexities are perfectly suitable for anyone grappling with the difficult issues surrounding the Iraq war.


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