So I start with Graham Greene's The Quiet American. It, along with Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters and Nelson Demille's Up Country, was one of the Vietnam related texts I took with me when we travelled there earlier this year. Poor war-struck Vietnam, this novel about you, is set in the French colonial wars proceeding 'The' Vietnam War and, essentially, tells the story of two men's muted but real battle for the love of a Vietnamese woman—a metaphor for the ongoing battle for control of Indo-China. Its play on the linearity of time modernises it, but its mood is reminiscent of both Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and Camus' The Outsider. It may be to do with that mix of sin and languid heat that emanates and turns action syrupy in all three novels. In some ways it is a simple story strung out. In others a slow ramble through colonialism. Reading it with other stories based in Vietnam, even though their time settings are all different, did sometimes confuse me a tad with the idiosyncrasies of each different war, but that is my fault, and not the fault of the book. Overall, though, I suppose it didn't grab me. It had a surprising twist but I didn't feel any real empathy with the characters. Maybe that's what makes it, as some claim, an anti-war novel. Effectively neither oppressor is acceptable and the true character—be it the Vietnamese woman Phuong, or Vietnam herself—never gets to tell her story. From that perspective it is an interesting read. I gave it three stars. As if I have the power to pluck them from heaven and allot them to fiction. I did anyway.
Who wore it better?
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