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The Polish Officer

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The Polish Officer Cover

ISBN13: 9780375758270
ISBN10: 0375758275
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

The Pilava Local

In Poland, on the night of 11 September 1939, Wehrmacht scout and commando units-elements of Kuechlers Third Army Corps-moved silently around the defenses of Novy Dvor, crossed the Vistula over the partly demolished Jablonka Bridge, and attempted to capture the Warsaw Telephone Exchange at the northern edge of the city. Meeting unexpected, and stubborn, resistance, they retreated along Sowacki Street and established positions on the roof and in the lobby of the Hotel Franconia, called for dive-bomber attacks on the exchange building, and settled in to wait for the light of dawn.

Mr. Felix Malek, proprietor of the Franconia, put on his best blue suit, and, accompanied by a room-service waiter, personally served cognac to the German soldiers at their mortar and machine-gun positions. He then descended to the wine cellar, opened the concealed door to an underground passage originally dug during the Prussian attack of 1795, hurried down Sowacki Street to the telephone exchange, and asked to see “the gentleman in charge.”

He was taken up a marble staircase to the directors office on the fifth floor and there, beneath a somber portrait of the director-pince-nez and brushed whiskers-presented to the officer in command, a captain. The captain was an excellent listener, and the questions he asked inspired Mr. Malek to talk for a long time. Arms, unit size, insignia, the location of positions-he was surprised at how much he knew.

When he was done, they gave him tea. He asked if he might remain at the exchange, it would be an honor to fight the Germans. No, they said, perhaps another day. So Mr. Malek made his way through the night to his sisters apartment in the Ochota district. “And what,” she asked, “were they like?”

Mr. Malek thought a moment. “Educated,” he said. “Quite the better class of people.”

Mr. Malek had not been thirty years an innkeeper for nothing: the defenders of the Warsaw Telephone Exchange, hastily recruited amidst the chaos of the German invasion, were officers of Polish Military Intelligence, known, in imitation of the French custom, as the Deuxième Bureau. The Breda machine gun at the casement window was served by a lieutenant from the cryptographic service, a pair of spectacles folded carefully in his breast pocket. The spidery fellow reloading ammunition belts was, in vocational life, a connoisseur of the senior civil service of the U.S.S.R., while the commander of the machine gun, feet propped on the tripod, was Lieutenant Karlinski, heavy and pink, who in normal times concerned himself with the analysis of Baltic shipping.

The officer in charge, Captain Alexander de Milja, was professionally a cartographer; first a mapmaker, later assistant director of the bureaus Geographical Section. But Poland was at war-no, Poland had lost her war, and it was clear to the captain that nobody was going to be assistant director of anything for a long time to come.

Still, you couldnt just stop fighting. Captain de Milja stood at the open window; the night air, cool and damp, felt especially good on his hands. Idiot! Hed grabbed the overheated barrel of the machine gun to change it during the attack, and now he had red stripes on his palms that hurt like hell.

4:20 a.m. He swept the façade of the hotel with his binoculars, tried-based on the proprietors intelligence-counting up floors to focus on certain rooms, but the Germans had the windows shut and all he could see was black glass. In Sowacki Square, a burned-out trolley, and the body of a Wehrmacht trooper, like a bundle of rags accidentally left in a doorway, weapon and ammunition long gone. To somebodys attic. De Milja let the binoculars hang on their strap and stared out into the city.

A refinery had been set on fire; a tower of heavy smoke rolled majestically into the sky and the clouds glowed a faint orange. A machine gun tapped in the distance, a plane droned overhead, artillery rumbled across the river. War-fire and smoke-had made autumn come early, dead leaves rattled along the cobblestones and caught in the iron drain covers.

Captain de Milja was a soldier, he knew he didnt have long to live. And, in truth, he didnt care. He was not in love with life. One or two things had to be taken care of, then matters could run their course.

The directors telephone was, naturally, of the very latest style; black, shiny, Bakelite plastic. De Milja dialed the military operator he had installed in the basement.

“Sir?”

“Sergeant, have you tried Tarnopol again?”

“Cant get through, sir. Ive been up to Wilno, and down to Zakopane, just about every routing there is, but the whole regions down. Were pretty sure the lines have been cut, sir.”

“Youll keep trying.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

He replaced the receiver carefully on its cradle. He had wanted to say good-bye to his wife.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

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'.
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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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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375758270
Author:
Furst, Alan
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Author:
Furst, Alan
Location:
New York, N.Y.
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Espionage/Intrigue
Subject:
World war, 1939-1945
Subject:
War
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Poland
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
Spy stories
Subject:
War stories
Subject:
Military intelligence
Subject:
World War, 19
Subject:
War & Military
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Espionage
Subject:
Popular Fiction-Military
Subject:
fiction;espionage;wwii;poland;historical fiction;spy;thriller;mystery;novel;paris;historical;war;france;europe;suspense;germany;alan furst;history
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st trade pbk. ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
2136-2
Publication Date:
October 2001
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8 x 5.2 x .6 in .475 lb

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The Polish Officer Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.50 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Random House Trade - English 9780375758270 Reviews:
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Beautifully written, powerfully imagined, and riveting as pure story....The book is a triumph."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Furst?s writing has the seductive shimmer of an urbane black-and-white Hollywood classic."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "One of the best novels of the year....Brilliant."
"Review" by , "[A] riveting ?pure? story...wonderfully exact...transcends the spy novel while delivering everything any fan of le Carré could ask for."
"Synopsis" by , 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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