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Night Soldiers: A Novelby Alan Furst
Synopses & Reviews
In Bulgaria, in 1934, on a muddy street in the river town of Vidin, Khristo Stoianev saw his brother kicked to death by fascist militia.
His brother was fifteen, no more than a blameless fool with a big mouth, and in calmer days his foolishness would have been accommodated in the usual ways-a slap in the face for humiliation, a few cold words to chill the blood, and a kick in the backside to send him on his way. That much was tradition. But these were political times, and it was very important to think before you spoke. Nikko Stoianev spoke without thinking, and so he died.
On both sides of the river-Romania to the north and Bulgaria to the south—the political passion ran white hot. People talked of little else: in the marketplace, in the church, even—a mark of just how far matters had progressed-in the kitchen. Something has happened in Bucharest. Something has happened in Sofia.
Soon, something will happen here.
And, lately, they marched.
Torchlight parades with singing and stiff-armed salutes. And the most splendid uniforms. The Romanians, who considered themselves much the more stylish and urbane, wore green shirts and red armbands with blue swastikas on a yellow field. They thrust their banners into the air in time with the drum: we are the Guard of Archangel Michael. See our insignia-the blazing crucifix and pistol.
They were pious on behalf of both symbols. In 1933, one of their number had murdered Ion Duca, the prime minister, as he waited for a train at Sinaia railway station. A splinter group, led by a Romanian of Polish descent named Cornelius Codreanu, called itself the Iron Guard. Not to be outdone by his rivals, Codreanu had recently assassinated the prefect of Jassy because he favored the Jews. Political times, it seemed, brought the keenest sort of competitive instincts into play and the passionate reached deep within themselves for acts of great magnitude.
The men of Vidin were not quite so fashionable, but that was to be expected. They were, after all, Slavs, who prided themselves on simplicity and honesty, while their brethren across the river were of Latin descent, the inheritors of a corner of the Roman Empire, fancified, indolent fellows who worshiped everything French and indulged themselves in a passion for the barber, the tailor, and the gossip of the caféeacute;s. Thus the Bulgarian marchers had selected for themselves a black and olive green uniform which was, compared with Romanian finery, simple and severe.
Still, though simple and severe, they were uniforms, and the men of Vidin were yet at some pains, in 1934, to explain to the local population how greatly that altered matters.
It was a soft autumn evening, just after dusk, when Nikko Stoianev called Omar Veiko a dog prick. A white mist hung in the tops of the willows and poplars that lined the bank of the river, clouds of swallows veered back and forth above the town square, the beating of their wings audible to those below. The Stoianev brothers were on their way home from the baker's house. Nikko, being the younger, had to carry the bread.
They were lucky to have it. The European continent lay in the ashes of economic ruin. The printing presses of the state treasuries cranked out reams of paper currency-showing wise kings and blissful martyrs—while bankers wept and peasants starved. It was, certainly, never quite so bad as the great famines of Asi
Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates
the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944. Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic novel, a work on a grand scale.
About the Author
Often compared to Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, Alan Furst is a master of the spy thriller and one of the great war novelists of our time. He is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, and The World at Night. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.
From the Hardcover edition.
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