Forthcoming Titles – January 2012
‘Nothing nowadays is fabulous and nothing rises from its ashes’
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 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 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 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 – but if you would like to see it as Greene saw it, Pictures From History‘s GRAHAM GREENE’S SAIGON page has nearly 100 images of Saigon from Greene’s time in the 1950s.