I am currently reading Frederik Logevall’s Embers of War, a detailed history of the French Indochina War. He writes at some length about Graham Greene’s 1955 novel, The Quiet American, and its characterization of the American presence in Vietnam as portrayed in the character of Alden Pyle whose innocence and naïveté lead to disaster. The novel was, in some ways, a forecast of the U.S. performance during “the American war” which followed the French withdrawal. The accuracy of that prediction is the subject of animated debate.
I mentioned earlier in this blog an endorsement of Annamese by Stephen Phillips, author of Proximity and The Recipient’s Son: “Tom Glenn’s novel is a proverbial bookend companion to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American . . .” I’m flattered by the comparison with Greene, a novelist I greatly admire, and I’m struck by the parallels between Alden Pyle and the protagonist of Annamese, Chuck Griffin. But whereas Pyle never learns from his experiences, Chuck does. By the end of the book he is both cynical and disheartened.
The character in my novel that seems more comparable to Pyle is Tommy Riggs, the Marine captain about whom I wrote yesterday. But he, too, ends up profoundly disillusioned by the end of the war. As one reader pointed out to me, Riggs has the same forename I do. Did I intend him to stand for me in some way? Not at the conscious level, but I cannot deny the resemblance between the buoyant boyish officer shattered by the fall of Saigon and the young intelligence officer I was when I first arrived in Vietnam in 1962 and the husk of a man left at the end.