Furst, Alan 1941–
Furst, Alan 1941–
ADDRESSES: Home—Sag Harbor, NY. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Once worked for the City of Seattle Arts Commission.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright teaching fellowship, 1969–70; Edgar Award nomination, 1976; Dashiell Hammett Award, 2002, for Kingdom of Shadows.
Your Day in the Barrel, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.
The Paris Drop, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
The Caribbean Account, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.
Shadow Trade, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1983.
Night Soldiers, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988.
Dark Star, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1991.
The Polish Officer, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
The World at Night, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.
Red Gold, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Kingdom of Shadows, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
Blood of Victory, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Dark Voyage, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
The Foreign Correspondent, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Furst's have been published in German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese.
(With Debbi Fields) One Smart Cookie: How a Housewife's Chocolate Chip Recipe Turned into a Multimillion-Dollar Business—The Story of Mrs. Field's Cookies, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor and author of introduction) The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Architectural Digest, Elle, and GQ. Former columnist, International Herald Tribune.
ADAPTATIONS: The World at Night and Dark Star have been optioned for film; some of Furst's novels have been adapted as audio books, including Night Soldiers, Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: "Alan Furst is an American writer, but his heart belongs to Europe," observed Charles Wilson in the New York Times Book Review. Indeed, the world of European intelligence services during the 1930s and 1940s is Furst's special fictional domain. Admired for his careful research and his evocation of period detail, Furst creates factually accurate thrillers involving Soviet, German, French, and British agents staged against a historical backdrop that sweeps from Polish battlefields to Parisian nightlife.
Furst's novels, according to Boston Globe contributor Richard Dyer, "are full of atmosphere, period detail, action, and suspense. But he is primarily interested in the drama of moral choice." This theme is evident in Shadow Trade, which features a former CIA agent, Guyer, who is now in business for himself after being downsized. Here Furst explores the complex and morally questionable habits and techniques of the spy world, in which everyone has a double who can be tracked down and manipulated by darker forces to achieve their evil goals. In his review for the Times Literary Supplement, Reginald Hill noted that Shadow Trade "is intelligent, honest, gripping, and not much for our comfort." Hill added: "Out of this, Furst spins a compelling and original plot without any escapist pyrotechnics."
In Night Soldiers Furst moves briskly from country to country to follow the book's hero, Khristo Stoianev. The story begins tragically when the rise of Fascism in Bulgaria leads to the killing of the teenaged Khristo's brother, and the grieving boy ends up in Moscow undergoing training by the NKVD, a precursor of the KGB. As a tool of the Communists, he is dispatched to Spain to murder fellow party members whom Moscow considers to be turncoats. However, Khristo escapes the dirty task and flees to France. By the end of World War II, he has worked his way to a happier arrangement as a spy for the Western victors. "My goal in Night Soldiers was to write a panoramic novel of the period," Furst told Dyer. Walter Goodman observed in the New York Times that "the characters tend to be personifications of their nations, and the book serves as something of a tour guide, especially to towns up and down the Danube." Goodman called Night Soldiers "absorbing."
In Dark Star, which Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor G.Y. Dryansky considered "more deeply satisfying than much of the non-thrilling 'serious fiction' around today," Furst confronts the subject of the Soviet purges of the 1930s. Its central character is Andre Szara, a Polish-born Russian Jew who serves the NKVD while working as a foreign correspondent for Pravda in Paris. Among the jittery French Jewry is the rich Joseph de Montfried, who appeals to Szara's heritage, asking him to pass along secrets about the German military to the British in exchange for British passports that would then be used to help Jews escape Germany. "The historical background and intelligence information are woven into the novel seamlessly," commented Herbert Mitgang in the New York Times. "It's as if Mr. Furst obtained documents under a Freedom of Information Act." Mitgang added, however, that readers would need to make a slight leap of faith as the novel approaches its end.
In The Polish Officer, Captain Alexander de Milja accepts the daring job of underground spy for his exiled government after Poland falls to the Nazis. De Milja proves adept at varying his disguises, particularly with his fluency of several European languages. His tasks include bomb production, propaganda, and smuggling Poland's gold reserves out of the country and out of the hands of the Germans. "Relying more on period detail than on the plot (which ultimately fizzles out) in depicting the tense life of a spy and the delicacy of maintaining one's cover, Furst writes like a confident crafter of the genre," observed Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. Furst's skill as a historian was also recognized by Chicago Tribune contributor Robert Chatain, who wrote: "What we see in Furst's novels is the birth of modern spying, the knotted habits of thinking, tradecraft and expediency that have led several generations of public servants down a path that arguably has done their governments more harm than good."
In The World at Night Furst remains rooted in European history of the 1930s and 1940s. Here his ambivalent hero is Jean-Claude Casson, a B-film producer whose world turns upside down after the Nazis invade his beloved France. Without funds, he comes close to collaborating with German film companies in Paris, but in the end he cannot make himself do it. Eventually, he is caught up in the more serious decision of who to spy for, since both sides are actively recruiting him. Richard Eder remarked in the Los Angeles Times that the novel "lights up the dark element it moves through," and has "an appreciation of France that is at once passionate, graceful and cold, an evocation of French virtues and vices under terrible testing."
Casson returns in Red Gold, which is set in Nazi-occupied Paris and involves dangerous dealings between the Resistance movement and the French Communists. The novel earned much critical enthusiasm. A contributor to the Economist, for instance, praised the "surprising delicacy" with which Furst showed the spirit of resistance. Library Journal contributor David Keymer considered the novel a "classy thriller, strong on mood and action." New York Times Book Review contributor Alan Riding observed that "Furst proves himself a master at capturing the bleak and mean mood of wartime Paris."
Kingdom of Shadows centers on Nicholas Morath, a Hungarian émigré aristocrat living in Paris in the late 1930s whose diplomat uncle recruits him for undercover missions against the Nazis in eastern Europe. A story ensues of forged passports, hidden money, smuggled spies, and assorted assassins and refugees. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Eugen Weber hailed the novel as "the etching of an era," and claimed that "it's hard to overestimate Kingdom of Shadows." "Mr. Furst's writing has the seductive shimmer of an urban black-and-white Hollywood classic," declared New York Times contributor Janet Maslin, who admired the novel's "beguiling sophistication, knowing political overview and utterly assured narrative tone."
Furst's more recent novels of espionage and intrigue include Blood of Victory, Dark Voyage, and The Foreign Correspondent. In the first of these, Furst remains in World War II Europe in a tale about I.A. Serebin. A Russian journalist who is half German, Serebin emigrates to England and is recruited by the British secret service to stop Russia from shipping oil to Germany. Serebin's adventures lead him Paris, St. Moritz, and Istanbul. Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "creates mood and place … superbly." A Kirkus Reviews commentator added that "the master of the dark-little-between-the-wars thriller returns with another very, very good one." Dark Voyage features merchant marine skipper DeHaan, a Dutchman who agrees to secretly haul weapons for the British after his country is overrun by the Nazis. "With profound understanding of the historic panorama, Furst subtly evokes … emotional and mental highs," according to Barbara Conaty in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that Furst's "novel is a splendid addition to an accomplished body of work."
Carlo Weisz, the title character of The Foreign Correspondent, finds himself in 1939 Italy secretly editing a journal against Fascism. The novel follows Weisz as he is captured and escapes. Writing in the Library Journal, David Keymer noted that Furst "is virtuosic at setting scenes." An Economist contributor asserted that "Furst excels at period atmosphere, which he conjures up, not with a litany of facts absorbed and reproduced, but with light touches that suggest the broader scene." The reviewer added: "His characters are wonderfully human."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, February, 2000, Bill Ott, "Quick Bibs: Books on a Timeless Topic," p. 66; February, 2002, Bill Ott, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. 65.
Booklist, January 1, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Polish Officer p. 802; April 1, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of The World at Night, p. 1345; February 1, 1999, Bill Ott, review of Red Gold, p. 964; November 15, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. 623; April 1, 2001, Karen Harris, review of The Polish Officer, p. 1490; May 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. 1598; August, 2002, Bill Ott, review of Blood of Victory, p. 1929; May 1, 2003, Bill Ott, review of The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage, p. 1534; July, 2004, Bill Ott, review of Dark Voyage, p. 1798; May 1, 2006, Bill Ott, review of The Foreign Correspondent, p. 30.
Boston Globe, January 23, 2001, Michael Kenney, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. E2; March 27, 2001, Richard Dyer, "Cloak and Typewriter: Spy Master Alan Furst Explores Moral Choice in His Period Novels," p. E1.
Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1995, Robert Chatain, review of The Polish Officer, Section 14, p. 5.
Economist, June 19, 1999, review of Red Gold, p. 3; June 10, 2006, review of The Foreign Correspondent, p. 87.
Entertainment Weekly, June 14, 1996, Suzanne Ruta, review of The World at Night, p. 55; June 2, 2006, Gilbert Cruz, review of The Foreign Correspondent, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Blood of Victory, p. 977; April 15, 2003, review of The Book of Spies, p. 555; July 1, 2004, review of Dark Voyage, p. 594; May 1, 2006, review of The Foreign Correspondent, p. 426.
Library Journal, January, 1999, David Keymer, review of Red Gold, p. 148; September 15, 2000, Michael Adams, review of The World at Night, p. 134; December, 2000, David Keymer, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. 187; August, 2002, Barbara Hoffert, review of Blood of Victory, p. 141; June 15, 2003, Pam Kingsbury, review of The Book of Spies, p. 103; July, 2004, Barbara Conaty, review of Dark Voyage, p. 69; May 15, 2006, David Keymer, review of The Foreign Correspondent, p. 88.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 21, 1988, Anthony Levitas, review of Night Soldiers, p. 2; April 28, 1991, G. Y. Dryansky, review of Dark Star, p. 2; June 2, 1996, Richard Eder, review of The World at Night, p. 2; June 10, 2001, Eugen Weber, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. 18.
National Interest, winter, 2004, Martin Walker, "Night and Fog: Alan Furst and the Literature of Espionage," p. 136.
New York Times, January 30, 1988, Walter Goodman, review of Night Soldier, p. 16; June 12, 1991, Herbert Mitgang, review of Dark Star, p. C17; June 5, 1996, Richard Bernstein, review of The World at Night, p. C18; January 11, 2001, Janet Maslin, review of Kingdom of Shadows.
New York Times Book Review, April 11, 1999, Alan Riding, review of Red Gold; February 4, 2001, Charles Wilson, review of Kingdom of Shadows.
People, July 3, 1995, Joe Treen, review of The Polish Officer, p. 29; September 23, 1996, Paula Chin, review of The World at Night, p. 36; September 13, 2004, Edward Nawotka, review of Dark Voyage, p. 56.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 2, 2006, Peter B. King, review of The Foreign Correspondent.
Publishers Weekly, December 19, 1994, review of The Polish Officer, p. 46; April 1, 1996, review of The World at Night, p. 50; January 18, 1999, review of Red Gold, p. 324; November 6, 2000, review of Kingdom of Shadows, p. 67; July 1, 2002, review of Blood of Victory, p. 51, and Adam Dunn, "PW Talks with Alan Furst," p. 52; July 19, 2004, review of Dark Voyage, p. 143; April 10, 2006, review of The Foreign Correspondent, p. 44.
Times Literary Supplement, April 5, 1985, Reginald Hill, review of Shadow Trade, p. 394.
Alan Furst Home Page, http://www.alanfurst.net (October 7, 2006).
Book Page, http://www.bookpage.com/ (October 7, 2006), Jay MacDonald, "A Journalist Turns Spy in Alan Furst's Latest WWII Novel," interview with Alan Furst.
Crime Time, http://www.crimetime.co.uk/ (October 7, 2006), Woody Haut, "Writing for the Maverick Reader: Alan Furst," interview with Alan Furst, and Brian Ritterspak, "And Another View …," interview with Alan Furst.