Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Elegant Espionage of Alan Furst

THE spy novels of alan furst are elegant, melancholy glimpses of history and the period right before world war II in central and eastern europe. does any working novelist sketch atmosphere as well as alan furst?

because 2008's "the spies of warsaw" was just released in paperback, i'm posting my interview with furst from last year. the book looks at a de gaulle-like aristocrat caught up in movements in poland. not sure it's the best furst yet, but the plot carries through quite well -- no mean feat in a novel whose conclusion is easy to predict. (that is, they are never going to end with hitler saying, "you know, this is going to conclude poorly -- forget i ever said anything.")

in person, furst -- whose characters are noble and sexual, often with an existential glamour -- was refreshingly down to earth, almost awkward in his enthusiasm. i asked him if he might try writing about, say, 18th c. china or something outside his familiar time and place and he said it was like having a favorite pie. why have banana when you love chocolate?

oddly, furst went to elementary school on the upper west side with my dad for a few years. furst's memory was such that he could even sketch the seating chart of the class and remember that my dad's father was in vaudeville. awesome recall probably a good skill for a historical novelist.

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