Writing, Alan Furst, And Envy

In keeping with our recent discussions, now even our titles have a list of three.  When folks talk about money, fame, trophy wives or politics (whoops four) we are generally not susceptible to envy but we are for writing.  In Red Gold, Alan Furst

Sidebar: Red Gold is another excellent book in the Night Soldier series.  If you like the world weary adults in film noir then you will love the series. In fact, the protagonist in Red Gold was, and if he lives through WWII, will be a film producer. So far, most of the series is only loosely connected so you can jump in anywhere.   End Sidebar.

has our hero Jean talking to the commie Weiss during the WWII German occupation of France and:

Weiss smiled. “It should, logically it should but the world doesn’t run on logic, it runs on the seven deadly sins and the weather.  Even so we try to do what we can.”
“And it helps,” [Jean] said, “to have machine guns”

We wish we could write just one passage like that.  Here, on the other hand is a really good article at Unherd on the Tories and Brexit by Robin Aitken.  Of course, you should read it all but here is a sample:

Why should it be imagined that younger people, who inevitably know less than their elders, are better equipped to decide the country’s future? It is only in the modern era, and particularly in western countries, that we have come to flatter and fawn over the young, not because of their shining hair, good teeth and clear skin (all very desirable) but because they supposedly have insights denied to the old.

We enjoy both Robin and Alan but only the latter causes us envy.  We felt a guilty pleasure when we noticed that Alan wrote that Jean left the truck running and later came back and started it.  Ha, we would not make that elementary mistake!  It does bring us joy that we have nine more of Alan’s Night Soldier books ahead of us.


Dark Star by Alan Furst

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.

Geo-political Examples

As the Art of Blogging says writing posts takes time.  A couple of days ago we said we were going to have two posts linking Kevin Williamson and maps but each of them proved more time consuming than we thought.

Alert: We are heading off continent to places that might make blogging difficult.  Any post could be the last one until about Christmas.  End Alert.

Maps were one of our first loves.  We still love them and we especially love the paper kind that we grew up with.  We remember getting the state road atlas and checking for new Interstates because they were new then.  We checked to find the town with the smallest population in each state.  It was no surprise that we got Prisoners Of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About The World by Tim Marshall as a birthday present.  Here is his website where you can buy the book.  It is worth buying and reading.

Sidebar: We take expertise very seriously.  Some parts of this review are a bit speculative.  We will try to keep you informed.  End Sidebar.

Tim has written Geo-politics 101 without the theory.  Despite our love of maps we tend to see the world economically so it was worthwhile for us but we need another book to extend our education.  Tim’s book will be interesting and useful to lots of folks because it is exactly about ten maps.  Whoever wrote the subtitle that the maps explain everything is way overstating Tim’s case.  He thinks that geography is important but just that.  He uses ten maps as examples.  On page 7, Tim talks about obeying and ignoring the rules of geography but the only one he seems to give is when the land is hard to defend the leaders push outwards.  Then he gives Russia as the example of the rule.  Rules need more than one example.

A minor quibble is the quality of the maps.  They are sometimes hard to read and sometimes leave off some of Tim’s main topics.  For example, the maps of Pakistan on p. 188 and p. 194 leave off Gwadar.  The Chinese investment in Gwadar is a major issue in both the China map and the India and Pakistan map.  Gwadar does show up in the map that opens India and Pakistan on pp. 180-181.  We know the problems about the economics of publishing but better maps would help.

Here is where will will push the limits of our expertise to try and help you understand Tim’s book.  We don’t want this post to be book length so we can’t be very academic.  Consider Ann Coulter, Jonah Goldberg, and Kevin Williamson as authors.  Although one might try and excommunicate the others from the conservative denomination, most of us recognize all of them as very different but still conservative.

Our take is that Ann is a prosecutor.  She is marshaling the evidence to try and prove her case.  If there are any weaknesses in her arguments you will not hear it from her.  She keeps herself on task and deals with a specific subject for a popular audience.  Given her legal background her writing style is not a surprise.

Jonah is an academic at heart.  The appendix in Suicide of the West is one piece of evidence.  The second is that he wants to generalize but he recognizes the difficulty of generalization and so he often considers alternative arguments.  He wants to write a popular book that an academic could enjoy.

Kevin loves controversy.  He tweeted some things that got him fired at The Atlantic.  That he went to The Atlantic in the first place tells you something about him.  He has amazing insights that he thunders down upon us in wonderful prose.

Tim isn’t interested in being Jonah.  He wants to be Kevin but he will have to settle to be Ann.  An example of why he isn’t the other two is Tim’s discussion of Venezuela in Latin America.  It is brief but it leaves out that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world.  That is a big part of its geography.  To convince the unconvinced you must deal with the obvious problems in argument you are trying to make.

We recommend Tim’s book.  It gave us much to think about and changed our perspective in some areas.  If you don’t take every word as the gospel you will be better for reading it.  We are.


Brett And Sue

We reading Sue Grafton’s V Is For Vengeance as the Brett nomination follies were going on.  Reading was much better than watching the follies.

Sidebar: Sue wrote 25 alphabet mysteries with her plucky but foolish PI Kinsey Millhone.  We are reading them in order.  V was written in 2011 but it was set in 1988.  One of the joys of the series is Sue is loves to find the right word and the obscure fact.  If you are going to read them you need to read them all because it is like a TV series with the same characters showing up here and there.  End Sidebar.

The confirmation is good for our Republic, excellent for the Republicans, and great for The Donald.  It is good for the country because the Democrat behavior has failed.  It is excellent for the GOP because if they lost this confrontation with the left there would be no reason for the GOP to continue to exist.  It is great for The Donald because those folks (not us) who worship him and his winning will be even more enthralled.

The commonality that got our attention is Sue’s attitude towards the right is a carbon copy of the one we see often and most recently in the Brett follies.  The left continues to control the media and loves to tell stories about folks on the right.  The problem is that they are not aware of what goes on with the right.  Sue wanders away from her attention to detail to do the same.  We will give you three examples and remind you that V is set in 1988.

The first is on page 240: “The club was largely given over to couples in their seventies and eighties, whose homes had appreciated in value while their retirement income had dwindled, subject to the whims of the economy.”  Well, real economic growth for 1983-88 was: 7.9%, 5.6%, 4.2%, 2.9%, 4.5%, 3.8%.  Comparable data for our 44th president was: 1.6%, 1.5%. 2.6%, 2.7%, 2.0%, 1.9%.  Yes, his best year in the last six was not as good as Reagan’s worst year in the last six.  Yes, we know that the president has a limited ability to influence the economy so we are mostly talking about memory.  How about the stock market that might determine retirement income?  The Dow Jones bottomed out below 2100 in June 1982 and was around 4400 when the story began in May 1988.  Yup, it had more than doubled in seven years although it was down from its 1987 high but these couples should be long term investors.  In short, times should be good for investing as well as home ownership.

The second is on the same page 240: “All four [two couples] were ardent Republicans, which meant any talk of politics was quickly addressed as they were all in agreement.”  Ardent Republicans that agree on everything.  It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.  The GOP primary in 1988 was a contested one, albeit, not exceptionally contentious. During that era there were many disputes on the right.  One of the most notable was the Panama Canal treaty.

The third is on page 296 when Dante, the hero loanshark says: “The cost of living is up.  The market is down.”  Perhaps we just take this as a convenient lie to cover Dante’s evil nature.  In any case it is untrue.  The market was up as already noted.  We take the cost of living as meaning inflation.  There was some inflation in 1988 but it was way down.  During 1979-81 inflation was in double digits.  It was down to 4% in 1988.  It is a pretty weak case to say that inflation is way down but it is a big problem because it is still more than zero.

Sue is like most of the writers and editors.  The good news is she is writing fiction and might be just adopting a left wing attitude.  What it means is that bad stuff about right wingers and Republicans is too obvious to need research.  Good things about leftist have the same tendency.  Mid-terms can’t come too soon.