We were wandering around the local library as us less-digital folks sometimes do and we chanced upon books by Alan Furst. Here is a list of all of his books in order. We are always looking for new authors and we want to start on folks with a number of novels. Alan has that and the jacket cover interested us because we like history and historical fiction. Espionage in Europe in 1937 with Hitler, Stalin, and Jews seemed like a very interesting canvas so we took Dark Star home. It is his second novel from that era but Alan tells us that there are just a few characters that overlap but that is it.
It is a really excellent book. We have kept track of our reading for 91 books over the last two plus years.
Sidebar: Yes we have a spreadsheet. Folks that know us will not be surprised. It is nice to have a record with a summary and ratings. End Sidebar.
It is the story of Andre Szara, a Jew born in Poland now a writer from the USSR who becomes and spy and likes it. Over our recent 91 books there are four that got a ten rating and Dark Star is one of those. It got that rating because it has marvelous detail, great scope, and lessons for us today. Andre travels all over the continent (at least Belgium, Czechoslovakia France, Germany, Greece/Turkey, Lithuania, Poland, Romania [with a spare u on the map], and the USSR) and Alan has details that impress us. A simple one is the city that was formally part of Greece and, at the time of the book, was part of Turkey. He does a good job of reminding us of the changes in countries.
Scope is tricky to get right. We are especially suspicious of scope. Authors that go for scope usually say silly things. We think because Alan is so grounded in detail that he can get the scope right. One example is his analysis of the relationship between Stalin and Hitler. We can’t spoil it for you so you must read it to find out. You will have to wait because it comes late in the book, around p. 393. We think you will find Alan’s analysis enlightening.
We now live in a time where we often have political alliances that test our gag reflex. So it was just before WWII. Andre’s superior is telling him that Stalin is going to make a deal with Hitler and Andre should publish something in support of the treaty. He explains why on p. 272:
You’ll be crucified by the doctrinaire Marxist, of course, but so what? The important thing is to get the discussion rolling by claiming some territory. There’s bound to be somebody who will rush to defend you – there always is no matter what you say… [T]he USSR is the hope of progressive mankind and the only ongoing remedy to fascism. [Emphasis added.]
You could summarize much of the current discussion by replacing the words in bold with terms that reflect our current divisions. You could play Mad-libs and replace the bold words with progressives, conservatives, Trump, the Green New Deal, and a few pejorative terms.
You do have to pay attention because everything is important in espionage. Otherwise, our only complaint is that it would have been nice if they told us about the map in the back of the book. We pick up another one of Alan’s books about the same era, Night Soldiers, tomorrow. We can’t wait.