Publication Date: 1955
Publisher: William Heinemann - London
My Summary: Set in the backdrop of Saigon, Vietnam during the early fifties, the novel is narrated by British war correspondent, Thomas Fowler. Starting with the ending (Fellow American, Alden Pyle's murder), the book works its way backwards and recounts the events that led up to the assassination. Though there appears to be a love triangle of sorts between the American and the Englishman, the author's characters are symbolic for his personal views on the fighting going on in Vietnam and America's early involvement.
My Review: The one thing I love about school, is the fact that you are forced to read classic literature, whatever that may be deemed by the professor. What is classic to you, may not be classic to others (I'm sorry, I cannot read Catch 22 for the life of me.) I sort of feel that a lot of it has to do with the way the author writes and if one is able to tolerate that writing.
So without straying too far from my point, let me just say that Graham Greene's novel is very easy to read. In fact, the entire time I read the novel, I kept picturing Michael Cain as the narrator (2002 film adaption). This made it very hard to dislike the narrator in any fashion because I love Michael Cain and seem to find sympathy in his actions. But, more so... I'd attribute this fact to the simple conclusion that the author's work is timeless and still relevant in these modern times.
To begin, the author himself was a war correspondent and did spend time in Vietnam during the early fifties (1951-1954). There's a certain expertise lent to the protagonist and the story felt factual.
Basically, the novel begins with the murder of an American government official. As the narrator flashes back on his relationship with the American, we learn of how the two met, their ideologies toward the French/Communist involvement in Vietnam, and more so, their intentions.
All of this is played out between the fight over Phuong's affections, Fowler's live in girlfriend. Pyle shows up on the scene and immediately decides to "save" Phuong from the environment that she lives in and decides he is going to marry her. Without divulging details, the just of it is that Fowler represents England, Pyle represents America and Phuong represents Vietnam. As you read the conversations and dive deeper into the love/hate relationship that Fowler and Pyle have, you begin to understand the author's political stance on American involvement in Indo-China. As with Pyle, America is perceived to be young, naive and aggressive--consequently looking back, our early involvement did drown us in the Vietnam conflict.
Without getting too historical, the novel does a very good job of intriguing you. What did America do during the early fifties, what were our intentions? Many of these questions (remember it was written prior to the Cuba crisis and Vietnam War) are brought up through Fowler's questioning of Pyle and what he is actually partaking in. (At this point, America is believed to be involved with third forces, supplying materials for these third forces to manufacture bombs.)
It's really an excellent read and one that I recommend to anyone that likes to add a classic to their read list.
If you are really interested in this topic (as I am, since my father was an American Intelligence during the Vietnam War), you can also watch the 2002 Phillip Noyce Film adaption, titled the same (the 1958 Joseph Mankiewicz film adaptation is completely inaccurate and took liberties of eliminating any American involvement or political conspiracies. In addition, it changed the ending between Phuoung and Fowler. )
Graham Greene's novel was extremely thought provoking and considering that we are able to look back and reflect while reading this, made it more relevant. I enjoyed reading this novel.