Synopses & Reviews
Paris, 1938. Forty-four-year-old Nicholas Morath is a handsome, sophisticated former cavalry officer in a community of declasse royalty. The co-owner of a small Paris advertising agency, he seems to live for dinner parties and love affairs. But looming over this elegant world is the shadow of Adolf Hitler, and as the small nations of eastern Europe fall under Nazi domination, Morath's uncle, Count Janos Polanyi, recruits his nephew for secret missions to oppose the Hungarian fascists. As Europe edges toward war, these missions grow ever more daring and dangerous, until Morath is risking his life in the fight against the secret police, Germany spies, and Soviet assassins. Breathtakingly evocative and surprising to its final page, Furst's latest espionage thriller is a triumph.
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.
Reading Group Guide
In spymaster Alan Furst's most electrifying thriller to date, Hungarian aristocrat Nicholas Morath—a hugely charismatic hero—becomes embroiled in a daring and perilous effort to halt the Nazi war machine in eastern Europe.
1. How does Nicholas Morath's experience as a cavalry officer in World War I affect his behavior in this book?
2. During many of Morath's assignments, he acts with very limited knowledge--he knows what he is to do, but not why, or who is involved. His uncle, a diplomat at the Hungarian legation, does not tell him the full story. Why? Is his uncle morally right to do this? Is he right in any sense? How is this used as a plot device?
3. The first verse of the Hungarian national anthem, quotes in the epigraph of Kingdom of Shadows, speaks of a people "torn by misfortune," a nation that has "already paid for its sins." How is the tone of this national anthem different from that of other patriotic songs? What can you infer about the history of Hungary from its national anthem?
4. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe with great accuracy. What elements of description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no first-hand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?
5. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels" and as "spy novels". He call them "historical spy novels." Some critics have insisted they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?
6. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in Furst's books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? And, if you know, how do you know? What in the book is guiding you toward that opinion?
7. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the end of the war in comfort? If not, why not?
8. Love affairs are always prominent in Furst's novels, and "love in a time of war" is a recurring theme. Do you think these affairs might last, and lead to marriage and domesticity?
9. How do the notions of good and evil work in Kingdom of Shadows? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero at the end of the book? Do you like Furst's use of realism in the novel?