I felt very serendipitous for a week when three of my classes converged on the same topic.
In my Francophone literature class we had just learned about the second wave of French colonialism, when their “civilizing mission” prompted them to colonize Indochina, as well as large parts of Africa. Then, in my course on the current French presidential election, we discussed the effects of this civilizing mission, and how it plays a huge part in immigration discussion and racism in France today. To top it all off, Zadie Smith, who I am lucky to have as a professor for the second time, assigned us to read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, which tells the story of two men, one English, one American, living in Vietnam during the French Indochinese war.
(Finally, and this is not super related but I watched an episode of the hot-vicar-detective show Grantchester, in which there was a two second mention of Graham Greene!)
All of this led to me, sitting in a too-hot bath, setting down Graham Greene for a moment and thinking about violence.
Because despite some of his flaws (i.e. female characters who have personality locked behind bars) Greene displays horrors in a way that made me feel as if I myself had been personally there, with the simplicity and brevity of a journalist, yet the heart of a novelist. He incorporates the numbness that one experiences after witnessing a gory event with the bright clarity of images that burn themselves into one’s brain.
Not only that, but I felt like Greene’s book was a good reminder of the fact that there is never a justification for war.
“A two-hundred-pound bomb does not discriminate,” he writes. “How many dead colonels justify a child’s or a trishaw driver’s death when you are building a national democratic front?”
Pick up a copy at your local library and let me know what you thought.