Synopses & Reviews
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 Stalins purges, Khristo flees to Paris.
Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 193445: 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.
"The conventions are familiar, but Furst's talent for creating thumbnail sketches of his players, the attention he pays to detail what his characters eat and wear and read, the way the weather mocks or complements the dire circumstances makes everything seem newly minted. It's those other books and movies depicting wartime intrigue that feel clichéd, never mind that they came first. Furst writes with the vividness of an originator....A great entertainer, Furst would probably be considered our finest practicing historical novelist if he weren't writing espionage novels." Charles Taylor, Salon.com
"An engaging writer and Esquire contributor, Furst deploys communists, fascists, and American naifs in Europe's theater of war and supports the action and romance with well-researched detail." Library Journal
Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934-1945: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and the guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944.
Night Soldiers is the first of Alan Furst's highly acclaimed novels recreating the atmosphere and tension of the worlds of espionage and resistance in Europe in the 1930s and World War II.
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
1. How does Alan Furst use the crosscurrents of local jealousies and feuds at the start of Night Soldiers
as a means of animating the plot?
2. Discuss Khristos experience at the training school in Moscow. How does it prepare him for a later career in the NKVD?
3. A decade after the action of Night Soldiers ends, what would you expect Khristo, Ilya Goldman, and Faye Berns to be doing?
4. Alan Furst has called Night Soldiers a “panoramic spy novel.” What do you think he means by this description?
5. Examine the character of Robert Eidenbaugh. In what ways does he represent the values of America in the 1940s?
6. Critics praise Fursts ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II—era Europe. 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 firsthand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?
7. Fursts novels have been described as “historical novels,” and as “spy novels.” He calls them “historical spy novels.” Some critics have insisted that they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels youve read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?
8. 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 his books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? How do you know?
9. Consider Fursts use of suspense in Night Soldiers. How does he build suspense? Discuss different methods he uses in the novel.
10. Love affairs are always prominent in Fursts novels, and “love in time of war” is a recurring theme. What role does the love affair play in Night Soldiers?
Alan Furst describes the area of his interest as "near history." His novels are set between 1933 the date of Adolf Hitlers ascent, with the first Stalinist purges in Moscow coming a year later and 1945, which saw the end of the war in Europe. The history of this period is well documented. Furst uses books by journalists of the time, personal memoirs some privately published autobiographies (many of the prominent individuals of the period wrote them), war and political histories, and characteristic novels written during those years.
"But," he says, "there is a lot more" for example, period newsreels, magazines, and newspapers, as well as films and music, especially swing and jazz. "I buy old books," Furst says, "and old maps, and I once bought, while living in Paris, the photo archive of a French stock house that served newspapers of Paris during the Occupation, all the prints marked as cleared by the German censorship." In addition, Furst uses intelligence histories of the time, many of them by British writers.
Alan Furst has lived for long periods in Paris and in the south of France. "In Europe," he says, "the past is still available. I remember a blue neon sign, in the Eleventh Arrondissement in Paris, that had possibly been there since the 1930s." He recalls that on the French holiday le jour des morts (All Saints Day, November 1) it is customary for Parisians to go to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. "Before the collapse of Polish communism, the Polish émigrés used to gather at the tomb of Maria Walewska. They would burn rows of votive candles and play Chopin on a portable stereo. It was always raining on that day, and a dozen or so Poles would stand there, under black umbrellas, with the music playing, as a kind of silent protest against the communist regime. The spirit of this action was history alive as though the entire past of that country, conquered again and again, was being brought back to life."
The heroes of Alan Fursts novels include a Bulgarian defector from the Soviet intelligence service, a foreign correspondent for Pravda, a Polish cartographer who works for the army general staff, a French producer of gangster films, and a Hungarian émigré who works with a diplomat at the Hungarian legation in Paris. "These are characters in novels," Furst says, "but people like them existed; people like them were courageous people with ordinary lives and, when the moment came, they acted with bravery and determination. I simply make it possible for them to tell their stories."