Thomas Fowler is, as Graham Greene was, a reporter in Southeast Asia, and Roger Sharrock observes that “there is more direct reporting in The Quiet American than in any of his other novels.” Greene himself attended press conferences in Hanoi, experienced at first hand a “vertical” bombing mission against the Viet Minh in the north, and saw the canal filled with dead bodies at Phat Diem that Fowler remembers.
The Quiet American is regarded as Greene’s “most carefully constructed novel.” It offers a story of espionage set against a documentary background of terrorism, political chaos, and moral ambiguity, representing a kind of formula writing last seen in Greene’s thriller “entertainment,” The Ministry of Fear (1943). (Greene is given to classifying his works as “novels” and “entertainments,” though the latter are marked by much the same philosophical and religious concerns as the former.)
Greene’s political intent is clearly to ridicule the notion of a “Third Force” in Asian politics, countering the threat of Communism and replacing the rationale of colonialism as a justification for Western involvement. Because of Greene’s apparent anti-American bias, the novel was not popular in the United States; Diana Trilling interpreted Fowler’s neutralism and Greene’s stance as being pro-Communist, although this criticism was later countered by Anthony Burgess’ warning against...
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