Saturday, July 7, 2012

The best 1930s novelist producing new work from that time

Having read all 12 of Alan Furst's historical spy novels, set in Europe on the eve of World War II or during the war, I am reading them again. Since I discovered Night Soldiers (published in 1988) I have kept up with him as he has continued to deliver an extraordinary book every couple of years, up to his latest one, Mission to Paris (2012). I am now re-reading Blood of Victory (2003) partly because a shelf elf put it in plain view on top of a pile on a hall bookcase, partly because much of the story involves Romania, where I am traveling in October.
    Furst does more than take us deep inside his chosen period; he writes as if he is at a table in a Paris brasserie in that era, within spitting or kissing distance of spies and emigres and ladies of no particular morals. Or in a lokanta in Istanbul, taking notes as an uncomfortably beautiful girl recites a memorized message in a language she does not understand, watched by a man with a pencil mustache who is smoking Balkan sobranies.
    Furst told a reporter who visited him in Sa
g Harbor (where I used to live) that his craft involves "teleportation" and that he realized this when he was listening to a tape of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli playing in Paris with the Hot Club in 1937 - and found himself transported to the cabaret, smelling the smoke and perfume, feeling he knew everyone there.
    I think literary teleportation is an excellent idea, especially for a novelist who wants to know his characters in their own time and situation.
   Furst's characters often repair to the "Brasserie Heininger", a composite locale partly inspired by Bofinger in the 4th arrondissement. I have chosen a picture of my own favorite Parisian brasserie, the celebrated Au pied du cochon, at the edge of Les Halles; in wilder days I watched the sun come up here, over a bowl of s
oupe à l'oignon gratinée and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, among whispering shades that now speak clearly, in a dozen Central European accents, through Alan Furst.


Collie said...

What a grand idea and wonderful way to get into the head of the characters we are creating....perhaps even on a more personal level, a way to seek help from our alternate selves. Aside from this, a great lead on an author I have not been exposed to. Thank you so much, Robert

Moonbeams and Eco-Dreams said...

This sounds very interesting. At one time I was obsessed with spy novels and I've been considering reading some again. Maybe this is a great place to start?

I enjoyed your interview on Coast!