Graham Greene, the prolific British novelist who wrote The Quiet American, the seminal fictional work dealing with the American misadventure in Vietnam, was also a prolific letter writer. Greene wrote some 2,000 letters or postcards every year, according to the newly published Graham Greene: A Life in Letters (Norton, 446 pp., $35), edited by Richard Greene.
Among them was a 1977 letter in which Graham Greene commented on the pioneering Vietnam War book, Dispatches by former Esquire correspondent Michael Herr. In the letter Greene had something insightful to say about how to write about the horrors of war.
To wit: “I was rather put off by the opening part which seemed to me too excitable, but Herr calmed down a bit later. I think when one is dealing with horrors one should write very coldly. Otherwise it reads like hidden boasting—’just see what a brave chap I am to have voluntarily put myself int he way of such experiences.’”