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Graham Greene spent much of the period 1951-1954 in Vietnam while he was writing ’The Quiet American’. 100 images, maps

  • By Andrew Forbes and David Henley

‘Nothing nowadays is fabulous and nothing rises from its ashes'

Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1955)

 When the novelist and traveller Graham Greene penned his darkly prophetic masterpiece of Vietnam, The Quiet American, in the mid-1950s, he was intimately acquainted with a country very different to the one so rapidly emerging today. The phoenix Greene refers to is Phuong, youthful mistress of the cynical and worldly-wise Saigon based British correspondent Thomas Fowler. Yet Phuong, whose name means phoenix, is clearly intended as a metaphor for Vietnam itself. Greene was, quintessentially, a man of his time. Nobody else has written so eloquently or so prophetically of Vietnam in the last savage throes of French colonialism and the coming nightmare of American involvement.

Saigon – now officially Ho Chi Minh City, though almost everyone still uses the city's old name – was the capital of the Republic of Vietnam between 1954 and reunification in 1975. It was a city beloved of the French, who styled it ‘The Paris of the East', but by Greene's time it was in serious decline. Dominated by corrupt politicians, self-serving army officers and the gangsters of the Binh Xuyen militia, it was about to endure two decades of violence and decadence during the Vietnam War, followed by a further 20 years of poverty and austerity under communism.

Today Saigon is a very different place. Vietnam's largest and most vibrant city, it is increasingly rich, cultured and sophisticated. It's still possible, however, to seek out many of Greene's haunts referenced in The Quiet American - and not just in Saigon and its sister city Cholon, but further afield in the Mekong Delta and at the Cao Dai seat in Tay Ninh, as well as at Hanoi, Phat Diem and Lao Cai in the more distant north.

  • Andrew Forbes has written widely on Vietnamese politics and history for the international press including Asian Wall Street Journal. He has travelled throughout the country, generally accompanied by his colleague, the photographer David Henley. Together they have contributed to numerous guide books on Vietnam including Insight Guides Vietnam and Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guide Vietnam. Both are Graham Greene enthusiasts, so researching, writing and photographing this book was truly a labour of love.

© 2012 CPA Media &  Cognoscenti Books. All Rights Reserved.