Sunday, January 20, 2013

Furst's The Polish Officer lush with atmosphere

Book 8 -- The Polish Officer by Alan Furst

Written in 1995, The Polish Officer is the third book in what has been described as author Alan Furst's Night Soldier novels.

As with its predecessors, the novel is set in Eastern Europe between 1933 and 1944. In this particular novel, the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Russian front in 1941, bookend the Nazi occupation of Paris.

And, as with its predecessors, the book is lush with atmosphere -- smoky nightclubs, shadowy back alleys, trains laboring through the night to elude bombers trolling the skies -- all evoking the icy grip of Nazi oppression, the ever-present threat of betrayal and the cruel, random death war brings.

Late in the novel, our hero, Captain Alexander de Milja, the Polish officer of the title, observes: "I have to keep fighting . . .  the Germans, the Russians. Perhaps both. Perhaps for years and years. But I might live through it, you never know. Somebody always seems to survive, no matter what happens. Perhaps it will be me."

Fatalistic, but pragmatic, which we learn de Milja has reason to be.

The novel follows him as he smuggles the Polish National Gold Reserve out of the country ahead of the advancing German forces and then to Paris where he poses as a Russian poet and then a Slovakian coal merchant, while relaying information on German battle plans to England.

Furst's knowledge of European history and his skill at conveying the atmosphere of this fearful period, raise his novels far above standard espionage fare. This is fine literature lurking behind a cloak and dagger.

Book 9 -- Vietnamerica by G.B. Tran

An impressive book collection can be built on works about America's ill-fated experience in Vietnam.

It would include Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato, Dispatches by Michael Herr, Stanley Karnow's Vietnam A History and Page After Page by combat photographer Tim Page.

Among the newer additions would be G.B. Tran's graphic family history, Vietnamerica.

Sub-titled A Family's Journey, Vietnamerica is the story of Tran's family's last-minute escape from Saigon as South Vietnam fell and their return to the country years later to reunite with family and friends.

It is a story of regret and forgiveness and the resilience of the human spirit told eloquently through Tran's drawings.

Book 10 -- Bad Signs by R.J. Ellory

Ugh.  After reading this novel, I understand why Ellory found it necessary to anonymously post fake reviews on Amazon in praise of his books.

No one was going to write a glowing review for him.

His 2011 novel, Bad Signs, is a bad book, filled with gratuitous violence that serves no other purpose than to titillate readers who conflate sex and violence.

Ellory attempts to dress it up with pseudo-serious explanations for the social drivers behind his killers' actions, but it doesn't wash. His efforts at psychological profiling are just a lame attempt to elevate what's really no better than pornography.

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