“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam - that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.”
I was blown away by this book. The cynical British reporter, Thomas, is twittering his time away in Vietnam during first Indochina War. As most foreign men there, he has a woman and is enjoying the drugs. He’s happy, I guess. Thomas soon crosses paths with a naive American from the Economic Mission, Pyle. There is some dueling for Thomas’ Vietnamese woman. Pyle is eventually killed. In the novel, we first learn Pyle is killed, and then experience the rest of the story through long flashbacks. The ending is quiet satisfying and fits perfectly with the rest of the story.
“That was my first instinct – to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was a greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.”
I can tell why the American press would call this anti-American, and not flattering to the eventual US intervention in Vietnam. This isn’t really just about war. It’s about love. It’s about colonialism. It’s about right and wrong. Greene packs a lot his short 189 page book.
“Thought’s a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?”
This book was filled with incredible quotes throughout. Greene had a good grasp of the politics happening in Vietnam. Reading this after the Vietnam war and seeing the lessons the US did not learn from the French in Vietnam, and the British everywhere else is hard to grasp. Have the super powers learnt anything from their colonial adventures trying to save the brown and yellow people?
Book #117 in my 2021 Reading Challenge