Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
The novel is a partly autobiographical account of Greene’s own time in Vietnam, where he was a journalist in 1951 to 1952. His narrator, Thomas Fowler, is also a war correspondent stationed in Saigon through whose eyes readers learn of the murky political situation developing with the increasing American presence in Southeast Asia.
*Saigon (SI-gahn; now Ho Chi Minh City). Capital of colonial Cochin China. A French stronghold, Saigon is the site for much of the action in The Quiet American. The fact that terrorist attacks and bombings occur in the midst of this urbane and sophisticated center of French colonial culture provides strong evidence for the disintegration of French control. The novel depicts Saigon as the center of a culture degraded by colonialism, one in which drug trafficking, opium smoking, and prostitution run rampant.
*Continental Hotel. Large hotel in central Saigon frequented by foreign correspondents that is the site of much of the novel’s dialogue. At this hotel Fowler meets Alden Pyle, the “quiet American” of the title, and Pyle meets Phuong, a beautiful young Vietnamese woman who is living with Fowler. Greene’s descriptions of the Continental are realistic and based in fact. The Continental is a real hotel that served as the base for European and American correspondents until the fall of Saigon in the 1970’s.
*Tanyin (tan-YIHN). City about fifty miles northwest of Saigon where Fowler goes to attend a celebration of the Caodists, who are attempting to synthesize Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The novel uses Fowler’s trip to illustrate what is going on in the countryside outside Saigon. At Tanyin, Fowler runs into Pyle, whose car has broken down, and the two men return to Saigon together. Along the way, Fowler’s own car runs out of gas, leaving the men dangerously isolated within disputed territory. Although the French maintain watchtowers every kilometer along the road, the towers often change hands during the night. The episode underscores how the relative peace of Saigon camouflages the instability of the rest of the country.
*Tonkin (TAHN-kihn). Northernmost district of Vietnam. In both the novel and reality, Tonkin is the location of many battles between the Viet Minh and the French, including the decisive great battle at Dien Bien Phu. Hanoi, the capital, and the important port of Haiphong are located in Tonkin as well.
*Phat Diem (fat-dee-ehm). Town about eighty miles south of Hanoi that is the site of an important Catholic cathedral. Phat Diem is also the site of a battle that leads to the most gruesome scene in the novel: a canal filled with human bodies.