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Charley Owns The Night

             The "Quiet American" is set in mid-1950s colonial Vietnam. The author, a Brit, does an excellent job in setting the scene and characters. Virtually everything is appropriate to what must have been the time and place. Therein lies the diffficulty with the novel. While very well written, with sharp, cynical dialog, it is all too easy to read too much into "QA". There are all kinds of opportunities to behold allegorical references in Alden Pyle (the namesake),Vigot(the French detective), Fowler(the cynical Brit journalist) and especially Phoung, the young Saigon woman. Poor Phoung!! She and that sister will outlive us all. Armed with 20/20 historical hindsight, how easy it is to proclaim that "QA" is prophetic and prescient! If only LBJ had read it! Or Nixon!! This reviewer (and Vietnam vet) is a bit more cynical. The devil's advocate in me might state that Greene merely wrote a superior novel, set in Vietnam, but with nothing more added. Pyle, Phoung and the whole crew represent no one other than themselves. The story can stand quite capably on its' own two feet. With no "historical perspectives" required. The conflict between these views is the essence of "QA". I have to mention a classic line from the plot: "The French Army controlled the highways until 7PM. After that, they controlled the watch towers". That was Vietnam in a sentence. Every night our unit went back to our base camp, closed the gates and posted guys in the guard towers. Vietnam is a scary place after sundown and Charley (the Viet Cong or "Victor Charley") ran the place after dark. The headline is borrowed from my buddy, Jim Lydlle, the chaplain's assistant. Of the 2 opinions above, I prefer the latter. "QA" is not prophecy. It takes an American or a Frenchman to capture the essence of Indochina, just as I believe only Brits and Irishmen can write about Ireland. Readers wishing to appreciate the fascinating French Vietnamese period should pounce on "Street Without Joy" by the late Bernard Fall.

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