Bulgaria, 1934. The local fascists have just murdered the brother of Khristo Stoianev. Now Khristo is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, for special service in the Spanish civil war.
©1988 Alan Furst; (P)2002 Recorded Books
"Furst shows a remarkable talent in his fifth novel, integrating details about the cultures of Spain, France and Eastern Europe with a fascinating story." (Publishers Weekly)
"Night Soldiers has everything the best thrillers offer, excitement, intrigue, romance, plus grown-up writing, characters that matter, and a crisp, carefully researched portrait of the period in which our own postwar world was shaped." (USA Today)
"Intelligent, ambitious, absorbing....The history is deftly incorporated; the viewpoint civilized; the characters and the settings picturesque; the adventures exciting; the writing pungent." (The New York Times)
Alan Furst creates such a sense of time and place with this novel of a world that has gone mad. The feel of civilization unraveling is quite unnerving, and as always George Guidall ( you either love the guy or hate him..) narrates with what I'd call a determined flair.
I enjoyed this as much as his other Novel, Dark Star, which is set in a similar time and place. The two Stories share the connection of the start of the Soviet Revolution, and although I did not live it- it feels very realistic.
One note: there is much death and violence- after all it is set right before and during World War 2. So, not exactly the "feel good" book of the month- My wife hated it- I loved it!
This story of a Bulgarian spy seems remarkably authentic, portraying what feels like the real life of a man who served the Soviets before and during WWII. The most interesting portion takes place in Civil War-era Spain, and one learns a few tricks of the trade, such as how to find out the password to get thru a roadblock into a town (set up your own fake roadblock and wait till someone tells it to you) and what to do if you discover a beacon for incoming aircraft (don't extinguish it -- move it to where the incoming aircraft will be easy to shoot down). For those who enjoy grim spy realism that in some ways even surpasses Le Carre, this is worth a listen. If you want James Bond, skip this one.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
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.
I've now read most of this series and I have to say this was without a doubt my favorite. Although it was lengthy, I didn't want it to end. Loved the history and the characters. I find myself pulling for Kristo and his BF comrades. I've listened to literally hundreds of audible books and this is the first time I've ever rated or reviewed. Thats how strongly I feel about this great piece of espionage literature. But, my main reason for submitting this is to heap praise--that's right - heap, on George Guidall. He's without a doubt the best narrator, especially for these works. Even his women characters sound believable, something I thought impossible. Amazing. His mastery of the various languages and dialects he employs is spot on and I've heard many others who could not pull this off. He and Patrick Tull are the best narrators. IMHO.
Night Soldiers seems to be well written in the style of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. The problem is that there are all of these disjointed vignettes and storylines that never seem to be fully connected and that never quite lead to the exciting page-turner it was seemingly building toward. The author repeatedly uses a technique where the outcome of a scene is left off and a later incident subtly reveals it. This gets old after it happens for the tenth time. I know this is an effective literary device if used appropriately, but it is WAY overdone.
I have listened to scores of good Audible books, but I cannot recommend this one.
This is a very good listen as it provides a good insight into the inner workings of the operation of the Russian state security agency (NKVD) and intriguingly describes events of the the prewar and wartime Europe through the eyes of Soviet, British and American spies. The book does have several inaccuracies. One small example is the author's reference to the NKVD personnel driving Pobeda (or Victory) cars in prewar Moscow. That is not possible as the car was first built in 1946 in honor of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. I like Russian and WWII history and pay attention to details. Because of some of these inaccuracies I rated the book only 4 stars.
The book is pretty slow, with lots of characters with similar names and lots of changes back and forth between scenes. I kept confusing different characters and scenes, to the point where I didn't care about any of the characters and just waited for the few action scenes to make things more interesting. It is very difficult to follow in an audio book, but I would guess it is a better read in print.
pros and cons
This is an outstanding book read by an outstanding reader. Alan Furst is almost certainly the best espionage fiction writer in the post-cold war era. Though his closest comparison would be the John le Carre of the 1970s, don't look for tightly knit, organized plots. Furst writes episodically. But also beautifully.
The book is similar to an epic, whereas the main character travels al over the world. From Bulgaria, to Russia, to Spain, to France, to Switzerland, to Czechoslovakia, and so on. It gives an idea of life before and during WWII.
The book has tons of unneeded character development. For example it takes a half hour or so to develop three characters, giving historical background and logging years of conversations in the village bar, to have then both arrested and hanged in the very next paragraph, all to no avail. Also, there are so many characters with similar Eastern European names, it was very difficult to keep them all straight.
In the end, I'm glad I read the book, but this won't be one that I'll remember for very long.
To be fair to this book, I had just finished Woud's "War and Remembrance" and so there are very few books that could even come close to the power. However, my opinion doesn't change when I think of it relative to some other fiction (historical fiction) I've read. It's an OK story. It's well told and it takes place (at least in part) in a part of the world (Bulgaria) with which I am less familiar. But it didn't really grip me. When it ended, I had to listen to the last two chapters again to be sure I hadn't spaced out and missed anything. It's the first Furst novel I've read and I'm not rushing to add others. I do like Guidall in general.
Excellently paced - after a rather slow start. Certainly makes you understand what was going on in Spain during the Civil War - this had always been a bit of a mystery to me, between POUM, PUP, etc. (I had read the Malraux novel and never made head or tale of the divisions - also of course I didn't really care......)
Naturally - our hero Christo! A man with a soul still alive despite his many tribulations
He articulates the characters so well you really feel you know them
Certainly not laugh! Mainly rage at the sheer evil of the NKVD - first manifested when they removed the stray dog the students had sheltered (of course very minor misdeed by their standards, but indicative! - somewhat reminiscent of what happened in Catholic institutions, who patented the areas of spying and mind-control). The book also highlighted the hopelessness of the lives of people in Eastern Europe.
A very interesting book - like all Alan Furst's. The character of the American girl was very well drawn.
"Excellent, spellbinding historical thriller"
Avoiding Stalin's henchmen and fighting Hitler's goons
Guidall's voice resonates with human experience
I read this excellent novel when it came out twenty five years ago. Guidall's reading made it come alive, and made the author's strong, clear, moving prose shine. I strongly urge readers to give this book a try, it's miles above the usual "russian spy novel" fare. It's a work of art... and a damn good yarn too!
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