The traveller / writer who accompanied me to Vietnam this year was Graham Greene; I read The Quiet American (1955) in Hanoi. Greene’s powerful novel about the war in Vietnam, set in the period of the French recolonization efforts against the Viet Minh, was the perfect book to read on this trip. He wrote from experience as a war correspondent, and this ‘fictional reportage’ makes compelling reading.
There is a great deal of the author himself in the narrator, Thomas Fowler: the profession, the intelligence, the world-weary cynicism and the genuine appreciation of Vietnam. Here is Fowler’s description of an evening in Saigon:
The first time that Pyle met Phuong again was at The Continental, perhaps two months after his arrival. It was the early evening, in the momentary cool which came when the sun had just gone down, and the candles were lit on the stalls in the side streets. The dice rattled on the tables where the French were playing Quatre Vingt-et-un and the girls in the white silk trousers bicycled home down the Rue Catinat.
I’ve always loved Greene’s writing and the experience of reading passages like this one, in the country that inspired them, meant so much to me. The twin passions of reading and travelling definitely go hand-in-hand.