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The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
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's review
Apr 12, 10

The best thing about this novel (and about all of Furst's novels, from what I have glimpsed) is that it manages to recreate the atmosphere of Europe between the two world wars in a very realistic, believable way, but also with an almost excruciating emotion: something very bittersweet emanates from Furst's writing, and from the condemned Europe he describes; you can grasp the tenderness the author feels for the doomed people and countries he evokes - they know what awaits them. The characters Furst feel close to keep going on fighting a gallant fight, even if they know it's a lost cause, and that makes them quite heartbreaking, without fake sentimentality. There's nothing much going on in terms of plot - which is, somehow, very refreshing for a spy novel: it doesn't function solely on the basis of a tight, convoluted storyline, nor on a complex but artificial structure as so many novels of this kind do. Things happen, but in an almost casual way, the way they probably did. Everybody is more or less mixed in some dubious affair - from Warsaw to Paris to Berlin, the deliquescence of the whole European world spreads like a disease, and men, women, clerks, aristocrats, spies, ordinary people try to find their way, to do what their conscience tell them to do, and to survive. Read this book for its atmosphere, and for its quiet painting of a world on the verge of collapsing: that's what make it so distinctive and beguiling. It's as if a whole civilization is crumbling in a whisper. And you know that, in many ways, the Europe that will reemerge later on will never be the same, for better and for worse.
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