i just reread Alan Furst’s The Polish Officer (a spy thriller). That’s right, bitches, i be reading books and you be hearing about that shit.
Furst is hit & miss – some excellent books (Dark Star, The Polish Officer, Spies of Warsaw, Spies of the Balkans, Night Soldiers) and some that don’t come together. His books typically have no real plot; rather, they have a central character and a series of mini-plots, one after another until the book ends. They create an atmosphere, around the hero and the time & place – always Europe in the 30s and 40s, before or in the war. Atmosphere can go deep into the reader, but if it doesn’t work it seems featherlight and incoherent. Here’s a sample of why i like Furst:
De Milja’s mother was the Countess Ostrowa, and her brothers, known always as ‘the Ostrow uncles,’ had taken it upon themselves to teach him about life; about dogs and horses and guns, servants and mistresses. They were from another time – a vanished age, his father said – but his mother adored them and they lived hard, drunken, brutal, happy lives and never bothered to notice they were in the wrong century.
His father was an aristocrat of another sort: second son of a family occupied for generations with polite commerce, senior professor of economics at Jagiello university. He was an arid man, tall and spare, who had been old all his life and who, in his heart, didn’t really think very much of the human mammal. The vaguely noble name de Milja, pronounced de Milya, he shooed away with his hand, admitting there was a village in Silesia, some forty miles from where the family originated, called Milja,but the aristocratic formation he ascribed to ‘some Austro-Hungarian nonsense my grandfather meddled with’ and would never say any more about it. Exiled to the top floor of the family house in Warsaw, he lived by the light of a green-glass lamp amid piles of German periodicals and stacks of woody paper covered with algebraic equations rendered in fountain pen.
So de Milja’s word, from its earliest days, had a cold north and a hot south, and he spent his time going back and forth; as a boy, as a young man, maybe, he thought, forever. The uncles laughing and roaring downstairs, throwing chicken bones in the fire, grabbing the maids’ bottoms, and passing out on the sofas with their boots on the pillows. Up two flights, a family of storks nested among the chimneys on the opposite roof and his father explained spiders and thunder.