Sunday, July 20, 2008

Spy Novel Versus Other Spy Novels

When I lived overseas and ran out of books to read, I borrowed a few of my boss's Tom Clancy novels. They were exciting, and when I stayed up late at night to read them, I'd hear the wild dogs rooting through my trash and imagine they were instead Russian commies.... But let's face it, Clancy, Ludlum, and the like treat their words as a technicality in the interest of fabricating a good plot. Espionage stories excite me, but they are often artlessly executed. Night Soldiers, the first novel I've read by Alan Furst, is an exception.

Most of Furst's novels are set during World War II, and his characters are often commoners caught up in the shifting European politics, attempting to survive the chaos. Night Soldiers is the tale of a young Bulgarian, Khristo, originally recruited by the Soviets but disillusioned by their methods. I had to grow accustomed to Furst's writing style, as some scenes are told from unusual points of view with ambiguous language. However, as the narrative proceeds, it grows progressively more exciting, culminating with the last few irresistible chapters.

Ickie said, "It's a spy novel, but by someone who can actually write well." Furst has obviously done in-depth research on the events and life in WWII-era Eastern Europe, a history I'd do well to understand better. Especially affecting for me were Khristo's reactions and observations upon meeting Americans, whom he sees as privileged and naive while also inspiring and admirable. Where Furst could have simply hustled along with his thrilling tale, he often pauses to consider deeper details about people and their actions. Some compare his work to Graham Greene, and while Greene's work is more contemplative (and more concerned with faith), it's a more apt comparison than to the pulpy spy novels. I look forward to checking out more books by Furst and trust they'll distract me from the inconvenience of being nine months pregnant.

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