Edward Hahn, August 2, 2011 (view all comments by Edward Hahn)
This is my fourth Alan Furst book and the best so far. I got so caught up in the story that I finished it in two days. I literally could not put it down.
The struggles of Alexander de Milja, a Polish map maker, working for his government's intelligence services, to survive the German/Russian invasion of Poland in 1939 and the ongoing war, while maintaining his integrity and honor, is spellbinding.
The writing is so realistic that it would be easy to believe that Furst experienced the events himself. He says in a postscript that he relies heavily on journals. Still, he has a compelling way of making it all so personal. His characters are finely drawn and heroic in a way that uncovers all their fears and misgivings.
He avoids stereotyping the Germans, the Russians, the French and the Poles while still making use of what he sees as their national characteristics. In this story, the only truly evil people are the German leaders. Everyone else is caught up in the events of the time.
I also appreciate his drawing out the class differences which are sometimes greater than the national or ethnic differences. Even his minor characters are memorable, like the candy store owner, Mademoiselle Herault and the teen-aged radio operator, Janin.
This is not a thriller. It is not a "spy" story. It is not historical fiction. It is much more than all of that. It's literature in the best sense of the word.
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merle, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by merle)
Alan Furst creates the atmosphere of noir spy films. All of his novels are set in mostly eastern Europe as WWII is about to take over or is upon us. they are totally fascinating, and full of history. As good as Le Carre'.
Chris Johnson, June 2, 2008 (view all comments by Chris Johnson)
I have enjoyed all of the Alan Furst novels that I have read, and this was no exception. The descriptions of wartime Poland and pre-Anschluss Paris in this novel are wonderful. Furst is great at intuiting and describing the practicalities of everyday life in wartime and occupation. de Milja is a somewhat reluctant spy, and Furst does a nice job of describing his "learning curve." The storyline in this novel is straightforward compared to most of Furst's other novels, and I was not particularly moved by de Milja's relationship with his wife, nor did I really see its relevance to de Milja's character and actions. Still, worth every penny.
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Random House Trade -
by Robert Chatain, Chicago Tribune,
"Brilliantly imagined, vividly drawn, rich with incident and detail....The Polish Officer portrays ordinary men and women caught out on the sharp edge of military intelligence operations in wartime: the partisans, saboteurs, resistance fighters and idealistic volunteers risking their lives in causes that seem lost."
"A great entertainer, Furst would probably be considered our finest practicing historical novelist if he weren't writing espionage novels. He's as good a historian as a novelist can afford to be....Driven by the missions and schemes of one central character more than by the events and institutions that dominate most espionage novels, Furst's books are full of shards of information, anecdotes, heartbreaking stories."
by Charles McCarry, author of The Tears of Autumn,
"Beautifully written, powerfully imagined, and riveting as pure story....The book is a triumph."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Furst has shown that he can produce an espionage tale that sloughs off the coil of genre. But [The Polish Officer] hugely ambitious and masterfully written ups the ante....The author understands, with astounding breadth of vision...what WWII was all about....A truly splendid novel of the wartime experience."
by The New York Times,
"Furst?s writing has the seductive shimmer of an urbane black-and-white Hollywood classic."
by Publishers Weekly,
"With clear, reticent prose and his trademark mastery of historical detail, Furst brings vividly to life this WWII-era tale of espionage and bravery, chronicling the work of the Polish underground in Poland, France and the Ukraine....Furst's understated narrative is insightful and convincing. The unassuming de Milja who considers himself merely 'unafraid to die, and lucky so far' proves an engaging protagonist. His exploits and the courageous sacrifices of the ordinary patriots who help him are both thrilling and at times inspiring."
by Robert Harris, author of Fatherland,
"One of the best novels of the year....Brilliant."
by Robin Winks, The Boston Globe,
"[A] riveting ?pure? story...wonderfully exact...transcends the spy novel while delivering everything any fan of le Carré could ask for."
September 1939. As Warsaw falls to Hitlers Wehrmacht, Captain Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission: to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partizan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbor during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal.
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