I've always meant to read something by Graham Greene, and I saw the 2002 movie adaptation of this book, so I thought I'd read it, though I barely remember the film. The Quiet American, published in 1955, was condemned in the US as anti-American, as you can imagine, since the story deals with the earliest meddling of the United States in Vietnam.
The main character and narrator is Fowler, a jaded and cynical British journalist who has lived in Vietnam for quite some time. Pyle, the young, idealistic American who arrives at the beginning of the story, pushes most of Fowler's buttons, but they form an uneasy friendship. Uneasy because of their differing political beliefs, but also because Pyle falls immediately in love with Fowler's Vietnamese girlfriend Phuong and is determined to win her for himself.
Others have described how the book is both a story about a love triangle, and at the same time a metaphor for US and UK involvement in southeast Asia. Fowler represents the aging and jaded colonialist UK and Pyle is the idealistic and go-getter USA. Both desire Phuong (Vietnam), but for different reasons. Pyle admits that he sees her as a child and wants to protect her. Fowler's desire for Phuong is more complex, but they each offer something that the other needs. She needs material comforts; Fowler needs her body and her presence.
I really enjoyed reading this book, for both stories. I found it eerie that Greene published this book in 1955, which means he wrote it earlier than that. He managed, however, to predict and foreshadow the disastrous US involvement in Vietnam that didn't openly happen until ten years later.
I also enjoyed Greene's descriptions of his three main characters: Pyle, Fowler, and Phuong. Fowler's quiet resignation, Phuong's complete inscrutability, and Pyle's set-my-teeth-on-edge fervor are all represented in a spare style. This is a very short book, but each word carefully contributes to setting the scene, the characters, and telling the story with as much efficiency as possible.
Once again, definitely recommended.