I have two copies of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. I’d long wanted a first edition hardback in good condition and I finally found a copy I could afford over the summer. The paperback below is the edition I bought during my first week living in Hà Nội in 1997.
It’s photocopied, of course, and covered in plastic. Some of the pages are falling out. Several have quotes I marked up in pen over the years.
I’ve carried this paperback with me everywhere I’ve lived since Hà Nội. The writing is exquisite, and the story it tells mirrors our times like no other. It turns out, the writer Pico Iyer carries the same book around with him too,
…I keep reading and rereading The Quiet American, like many of Greene’s books, and have it always with me in my carry-on, a private bible. Certainly it’s true that if you walk through modern Saigon, as I have done, you can see Greene’s romantic triangle playing out in every other hotel. And if you think about Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere, you see the outline of the same story.
What touches me in the book, though, is something even deeper and more personal. The novel asks every one of us what we want from a foreign place, and what we are planning to do with it. It points out that innocence and idealism can claim as many lives as the opposite, fearful cynicism.
…You must read The Quiet American, I tell my friends, because it explains our past, in Southeast Asia, trains light on our present in many places, and perhaps foreshadows our future if we don’t take heed.
Indeed, some sixty years after this book was first published, the quote on the inside of the dust jacket is as relevant today as it was back then.