The Quiet American

'The Quiet American'

In March 1974, after nearly two years of covering the war in Vietnam, I boarded an Air Vietnam flight to Bangkok on route to a new assignment in Rio de Janeiro. Goodbye Tu Do Street, Hello Ipanema. I pulled a paperback out of my shoulder bag and began turning the slightly tattered pages of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, a book I had first read fifteen years earlier. How would Greene’s 1955 novel of love, war, and treachery in the waning days of French rule in Indochina scan now that I knew something about Vietnam? The book was already something of a cult classic among journalists and old Vietnam hands. And with good reason.

As the rereading proved, Greene got much about Vietnam-and the Westerners who came there to meddle-just right. Of course, he wrote about it with great flair: the gold sheen on the rice fields in the late afternoon sun, the street chatter of the market women, and the confusing melee that passed for politics. Although it was written just as the defeated French were abandoning the country and the guileless Americans were moving in, the book has a foreboding of the disaster that would befall Vietnam during the subsequent years of what the Vietnamese today call the American war.

Now Greene’s The Quiet American is back in a flashy, but sensitive, film adaptation directed by Australian Phillip Noyce. The movie stars Michael Caine as Fowler, a jaded British journalist who, like so many...

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About the Author

Barry Hillenbrand was a foreign correspondent for Time for thirty-four years, including seven years as the magazine's London bureau chief. Retired, he now lives in Washington, D.C.