Monday, February 21, 2011

ความเป็น American

The jeep was packed as it shuttled us to the disco in Kanchanaburi.
"I don't understand you Americans," she said, her indian accent making her statement resonate in the vehicle.
"We have to vie for supremacy. If there is more than one American in the room we fight each other for who can be the real representative of our grandious nation," I replied.
"Fuck, I would be a better representative for America than you," the australian replied. "She would too and she's from south east asia."
"Shut the fuck up before I bomb your country. I'll bomb all your stupid countries. Pricks," I replied.

Graham Greene's "The Quiet American," begins with the death of an American. Greene through his narrator, Thomas Fowler, a British jaded journalist reaching his 50s with a paunch to match, describes the character of the American and how he ended up being... Marrrdeerrred. The american, Pyle, is an idealist who has taken hold of the writings of York Harding, some sort of democratic ideologue who has spent little time in Vietnam where the novel is set. Fowler lives with his lover, a young vietnamese woman named Phuong covering the French war when Pyle arrives on scene. Fowler is realistic about the battle between the nations and uninvolved. Pyle however, being the young idealist that he is, believes in neither the colonialist answer of the French nor in the communism of the asian country he is rather beguiled by the idea of a "third force," which when operational would be more easily maneuvered by the U.S.

While ideologically different, the two also battle over the love/company of Phuong. The 20 year old woman's character is never fleshed out with her decisions being made by her older sister whom is primarily interested in her being married off. She is depicted by Fowler as a woman who seeks security, while Pyle believes that she is a beautiful flower in need of saving. Phuong, herself, speaks little and when she does it is only to ask if Fowler would like his opium pipe filled, or to recount her trip to the movies.

The basic narrative structure reminded me of Greene's other work that I've read recently; "May I borrow your Husband?" In the short story the narrator, who again is a writer, is holidaying by the Mediterranean sea. The hotel he is staying is visited upon initially by a gay couple, and then a newly wed couple. The gay couple swoop on the groom. While the narrator is smitten with the bride, Poopy, he never mobilizes his feelings for her and she remains in innocent oblivion of the sexual change that is occurring in her husband. Where the stories are similar is in the taking of a partner. In "May I borrow your Husband," it is the groom whom is being taken by a gay couple, whereas in the "Quiet American," it is the exotic Phuong being stolen by the idealistic American.

The novel has twice been made into a movie, once with Michael Caine, in 2002 and initially in 1958. The writing is easy with Greene's literary style being simplistic and sparse. The action is steady and its easy to empathize with Fowler and see Pyle as being a delusional twat.

Being overseas I've encountered a slew of internationals, and other ex pats. I've met more Swedes than the small country would seem to have yet few Americans, it seems like we don't travel that much. It is always interesting hearing what others think of my noble nation of birth. It makes me wonder if there is something essential, some inherent qualities or traits of Americans.

Evidently the book recieved good press in Britain but Americans didn't much like it considering its poor depiction of them. Maybe the British were right...?

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