Tuesday, May 04, 2010
A Furst-Class Novel: "Spies of the Balkans" by Alan Furst
I have become a huge fan of the writings of Alan Furst. Over the past several years, I have read most of his novels. So, I was thrilled to learn that he has a new work coming out in a few weeks. I was even more thrilled to have a chance to get an advanced peek at "Spies of the Balkans." If you are already a fan of Furst, you will know what to expect - with one exception. This latest novel has more romance than any of his prior works, which may increase Furst's female readership. The addition of romantic interests and interludes in no way diminishes Furst's classic style of WWII era espionage intrigue.
The action is set in the Balkans, as the Greeks mount resistance to the Axis' advance into the Balkans, and in the process, take significant risks to help save as many Jewish refugees as possible heading from Germany to Turkey and points beyond. Emilia Krebs, from her position as the Jewish wife of an SS officer in Berlin, runs a clandestine operation ferrying small groups of refuges through Greece with the aid of the protagonist, an uber-detective in Salonika. As Krebs' cover has been blown and she flees for her life, she reflects on her limited success in a musing reminiscent of Oskar Schindler's lament near the end of "Schindler's List":
"Emilia Krebs and her grandfather watched the towns go by and, even though the glass partition assured them privacy, only conversed now and then.
`How many did you save, Emmi?' the elder Adler asked.
`I believe it was forty, at least that. We lost one man who was arrested at the Hungarian border, we never learned why, and a pair of sisters, the Rosenblum sisters, who simply vanished. They were librarians, older women; God only knows what happened to them. But that was in the early days, we managed better later on.'
`I am proud of you, Emmi, do you know that? Forty people.'
`We did our best,' she said.
And then for a time, they did not speak, lost in their own thoughts. Emilia didn't cry, mostly she didn't, she held it in, and kept a handkerchief in her hand for the occasional laps. Her grandfather was, in his way, also brokenhearted. Seven hundred years of family history in Germany, gone. Finally, he said, some minutes later, `It was the honorable thing to do.'
She nodded, in effect thanking him for kind words. But we pay a price for honor, she thought. So now she paid, so did her husband, so did her grandfather, and, for that matter, so would the Yugoslavs, and the Greeks. Such a cruel price. Was it always thus? Perhaps, it was something she couldn't calculate, life had somehow grown darker, at times it did. Perhaps that was what people meant by the phrase the world is coming apart. But mostly you couldn't question what they meant, because mostly they said it to themselves." (Pages 240-241)