Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mini-Review: "The Foreign Correspondent" by Alan Furst

My friend, Terry Cowman, has excellent tastes in literature, so when he told me a few years ago that he was surprised that I had not already become a fan of Alan Furst, I was intrigued, and eager to find out what I had been missing. So, I quickly read a couple of his novels, and was hooked! I was thrilled to learn that he has just publish a new work entitled: "The Foreign Correspondent.”

Not that Terry Cowman’s opinion needed any ratification, but I have been interested in the reaction of people when they notice me reading a Furst novel. Boston is a peculiar city in terms of literary tastes and practices. I observe more people reading in public in Boston than in most American cities – equivalent to what I have observed in London and Moscow. It is not uncommon, in my experience, to have someone on the T or in a coffee shop, look to see what work I am reading, and then either to smile knowingly, offer a “thumbs up “of approval, or make a verbal comment about the book or the author. Just yesterday at Copley Place Mall, a woman saw that I was reading Furst, stopped in her tracks and said with a grin: “He’s a great writer, isn’t he!”

The New York Times calls Furst “America’s preeminent spy novelist,” and in my view, he comfortably takes his place in the pantheon occupied by Jean Le Carre, Charles McCarry and precious few others. He transcends the genre of “spy novelist” by touching on romance, history and mystery. This novel is a celebration of the WWII literary resistance fighters – émigrés from Italy who used Paris as a base of operations to chip away at the power of Mussolini and Hitler. The action centers on the attempts by a motley crew of Italians, led by Reuter’s correspondent, Carlo Weisz, to publish an underground newspaper, Liberazione. The paper is sporadically written in Paris and smuggled to Genoa for printing and sub rosa distribution in dribs and drabs throughout Italy.

Each page evoked for me what must have been the sights, smells, sounds and survival tactics in a Paris that awaited the inevitable first volleys of WWII as the leaders of Europe danced their deadly dance of diplomacy, deception, double-dealing and duplicity.

The following passage both captures the life that Weisz led in Paris and also reflects all of the characteristics that I like and admire in Furst’s writing style:

“He shed his clothes, down to his shorts and undershirt, hunted through his jacket until he found his glasses, and sat down at the Olivetti. The opening volley sounded loud to Weisz, but he ignored it – the other tenants never seemed to mind the late-night tapping of a typewriter. Of, if they did, they never said anything about it. Typing late at night had near saintly status in the city of Paris – who knew what wondrous flights of imagination might be in progress – and people liked the idea of an inspired soul, pounding away after a midnight visit from the muse.” (Page 126)

After finishing this latest work by Furst, I am inspired to fill in the gaps of his previous offerings I have not yet read – works like “The World At Night,” “Blood of Victory,” Dark Voyage,” and “Dark Star.” Stay tuned for more reviews to come!



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