A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
One of those GREAT, sweeping spy epics. Furst stands right with le Carré (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), Littell (the Company), and Mailer (Harlot's Ghost) in his ability to capture the ambiguity, color, temperature and texture of prewar Europe as well as the people and claustrophobia of War.
I'm glad I decided to crack this spy nut. While there are segments here and there I didn't think were fantastic, on the whole, the entire novel was worth the time, effort, and credit. Spy fiction doesn't get much better than this. I read/listened to an earlier novel of his a few months ago (Mission to Paris) while traveling in E. Europe and almost ended my Furst journey before it began. I'm glad I went back to the beginning. Just based on this ONE novel, I'm about ready to commit to the next three or four Night Soldier novels.
Alan Furst's great historical espionage novel, Dark Star is a prewar epic of Europe's moral ambiguities and shifting loyalties. Told through the eyes of Pravda journalist and Luftmensch (and sometimes NKVD spy) André Szara, the story stretches from Paris to Berlin, Warsaw, and even down to Izmir. In this novel Furst examines ideas of trust and suspicion, love and hate, magnetism and repulsion.
It is a novel about the compromises good men make to survive, the power that a few evil men have over millions, and the sacrifices a few Luftmenschen make to save thousands. Ultimately, Dark Star is a story of the Russian and German nonaggression pact (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) at the beginning of WWII and how the Jewish members of Stalin's spy network were forced to make huge compromises to survive (most didn't survive) and how some were pushed into heroics because decency and the times demanded it.
The magic of this novel is that Furst is able to unweave the complicated nature of the prewar spy alliances and show all the different threads and colors and never lose the reader. His prose is amazing. His characters are nearly perfect. One of my favorite historical spy novels of all time.
A non-typical Furst novel, 'Dark Voyage' is primarily centered on a Dutch captain (DeHaan), his multicultural crew, and the merchant marine perils that faced sailors from the Mediterranean to the Baltic seas. Every book Furst writes appears to grow from the same thesis, but stretch into entirely new areas. This was a nice deviation from his normal East European or Parisian locals.
With every Furst novel, I become more and more amazed at the nuance of his novels. He seems content to write his novels in the periphery of history. His characters float past major events like mouches volantes through the dark vision of history. He wants to tell the story of minor characters, minor battles, minor countries that together all made a major difference in WWII.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
On the surface, Umberto Eco's classic, The Name of the Rose, is a whodunit mystery set in a monastery in 14th century Italy. A perspicacious monk named William of Baskerville (an obvious nod) and his young assistant, Adso, who narrates the story as a much older man, arrive at the monastery, the scene of mysterious murders. Given that delegations from the Pope and Emperor, whose theologies have schismed, are about to arrive for a conference, and the air is already tense, William must get the root of the foul deeds. And, so, he puts to use his well-honed powers of observation and deduction in pursuit of ultimate causes. For, soon, an inquisitor will be arriving and things will get uncomfortable.
However, it's the turbulent 14th century, and ultimate causes may not be so clear, given the differing schools of thought on the nature of good and evil, sin and salvation, power and poverty, or reason versus superstition that embroil Christendom. At its core, TNTR is a philosophical and somewhat challenging book. Eco isn't afraid to pause the action and throw ideas at the reader, or look backwards in time and trace the evolution of different heretical Christian orders. Though these elements are a little confusing at first, if the reader is patient, it becomes clear that many of the themes are timeless and familiar.
This book is really a meditation on symbols and their meaning, the way ideas in our minds seek but never quite grasp the underlying reality, thus creating new ones. When does heresy stray from orthodoxy and become heresy, and what does each really mean? When does commitment to poverty become an act of violent revolution? What defines the line between sexuality that is good and sexuality that is a sin? How long do names, memories, and ideas hold onto an essence of something, when that thing is gone? When does reason lead us to answers, and when do our efforts to see through illusion create their own illusions? Is God simply the ultimate symbol, and what fearsome truth do we uncover in trying to peer beyond the veil?
To me, these rich questions (which will probably bore the heck out of readers who have no interest in philosophy or medieval theology) made for a moving read. Gradually, the riddles of the story build: a library filled with secrets, a close-mouthed gatekeeper, a labyrinth (see wikipedia for a map), a mysterious book, a prophetic figure, and trysts and twists in the dark of night. The murders, as they take place, point to the signs of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. And, indeed, the story does build to a kind of apocalypse, filled with symbolism that I found quite brilliant, even as it calls into question all symbols. I won't hint at what Eco places behind the final seals, but to me, the best endings are the ones that both meet your expectations and surprise you, and I think he pulled that off.
If you're looking for an accessible thriller similar to the Da Vinci Code, don't bother. This novel is for people who want to fully engage their brains, and don't mind a bit of rereading to make sense of the pieces. Fans of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which has a lot of parallels, or of David Mitchell, might want to check this book out. It’s a little more “literary” than the works of both those authors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been an influence on them.
To audible listeners, I should let you know that the various problems with the download and recording described by others seem to have been cleaned up. There was some faint background noise in part 3, but nothing that bothered me.