Guidebook Visit Graham Greene’s colonial, war-torn Saigon

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Visit Graham Greene’s colonial, war-torn Saigon

Graham Greene was one of the most famous English novelists and foreign correspondents of the 20th century, writes Traveller. His book The Quiet American was “a prophetic tale of a naïve young American’s misguided efforts to bring democracy to the Far East,” explains Historic Vietnam. While he was in Saigon, Greene’s life was “focused almost exclusively on the privileged expat world of the city centre, and in particular on rue Catinat (modern Dong Khoi street), still at that time the epitome of colonial chic.”

Although there's no official Graham Greene literary tour of Ho Chi Minh City, “step onto Dong Khoi, close your eyes, heighten those senses of smell and hearing, and you're instantly cast back 60 years to the city Greene immortalised,” says Traveller. The “obvious place to start” is the Continental Hotel, where Greene “loved to lounge in the Majestic's interior courtyard, by the swimming pool, protected not only from the insurgents but from less affluent journalists.”

“If you take the walk which Greene often took, up and down Dong Khoi, you will still see much of what he saw, amongst the high-rise modern blocks. Start down by the river, where Fowler watched the stevedores unloading American planes by arc light and the sailors on the pavement drinking beer, pass the Majestic Hotel, a block from the Grand. Call in for cocktails if you like, as Greene and his character did; or go back in the early evening to watch the sun set from the rooftop bar and feel the breeze from the Sài Gòn River. Carry on up the street, past the flamboyant fin de siècle opera, which the communists renamed Municipal Theatre to make it sound more democratic, to the Continental Hotel where Greene sometimes stayed and where Fowler met Alden Pyle, the Quiet American of the title.” - Beats The Office

The colonial-era buildings of Vietnam's biggest city that “formed the charming backdrop to The Quiet American are fast disappearing, reports The Jakarta Post -- “sparking fears it is losing its unique charm.” As any visitor to Ho Chi Minh City can’t help but notice, “the construction cranes dotting an increasingly crowded skyline,” says the Post ... “they are a the most visible symbols of one of Asia's fastest growing economies.”

“If you re-read ‘The Quiet American’ today,” wrote the late Chistopher Hitchens in his review of the book, “you will see that it blames the blundering Americans largely for failing to understand or emulate the sophisticated French style of colonialism in Vietnam … for many of us the original sin—if I may annex that term—of the American intervention was precisely its inheritance of a doomed French war. For Greene, rather, it was the failure to live up to that legacy. Whatever it was, it was not a revolutionary or radical position. And it seems to have been content to overlook quite a few victims.”

“It was quite by chance that I fell in love with Indo-China; nothing was further from my thoughts on my first visit than that I would one day set a novel there … the spell was first cast, I think, by the tall elegant girls in white silk trousers, by the pewter evening light on flat paddy fields, where the water-buffaloes trudged fetlock-deep with a slow primeval gait, by the French perfumeries in the rue Catinat, the Chinese gambling houses in Cholon, above all by that feeling of exhilaration which a measure of danger brings to the visitor with a return ticket.” - Graham Greene

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