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The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  244 ratings  ·  49 reviews
One of the biggest bestsellers of all time, and one of the first and most influential spy novels of the twentieth century, is back in print for the first time since 1948

Alan Furst fans will note that train passengers in his bestselling thrillers are often observed reading The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars. It’s a smart detail: First published in 1927, the book was one of th
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Melville House (first published 1925)
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3.43  · 
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 ·  244 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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classic reverie
When looking over at Amazon to find books that were made into movies I have seen over the years, I was introduced to Maurice Dekobra's The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars. I was looking for the book based on Hitchcock's movie Foreign Correspondent & thought I had found the book but it was modern author Alan Furst's novel by the same name. The book based on the movie was "Personal History" by Vincent Sheean which is not available in Kindle format. Furst had touted Dekobra's novel & it being ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic
3 1/2

Amazing to think that this was a best-seller in its day, if only because it does not seem to fit into any one genre. To me it is a blend of:

-light-hearted escapades of the very British and very rich (ala Jeeves and Wooster)
-international espionage with sex (ala James Bond)
-critique of Communism (ala Orwell)
-the plight of the woman who depends on men for wealth (ala Edith Wharton)

Our narrator is a suave Frenchman with a heart of gold. Like James Bond, he loves women and does well with them;
Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, owned
I was slogging my way through a couple of books that didn't fully have my attention when I rebelled, and scoured my shelves for something more engaging. I don't think I've read a "spy novel" since college (or maybe high school), but I trust Neversink Library, so I ended up opening The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars.

As usual, I was not disappointed. Well, I was a little disappointed that "The Madonna" didn't turn out to be the spy, nor even really the star of her own book, but what the book is inst
Al Bità
Aug 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
It was curiosity more than anything else that made me buy this book. Curiosity as to what it was that made this book so immensely popular in the mid 20s (this is a reprint of that work as translated by the French(real name Maurice Tessier) author’s American friend Neil Wainwright (so expect American punctuation and spellings!) to whom the book is dedicated. At worst, I thought it might simply be a frivolous pastime, but it was curiosity that was foremost in my mind.

There are four main characters
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime
It was a fairly light read, depending on how much you wanted to get into it. I went into it with the false expectation that it was going to be a simple action thriller, being a Spy novel. It turned out to be constructed more like a pastry than in inverted spyglass; sweet and flexible in interpretation. I got about as much of it as I put in, only to realise with sadness at the end that the things that made it more than worthwhile - the political historical references, the women's liberation theme ...more
This is the first book I've read in the Neversink series where I thought, upon finishing it, "Why?"

Why republish this, why think it deserves a broader modern audience? This might have been relatively intriguing in its time (the free-loving heroine, the jabs at Communism, the relatively open acceptance of pre, post, and intra-marital sex) but, unlike the books by Keun and Horvath, even the Strugatskys, that Melville House has previously published as part of this imprint, this little picaresque p
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Overwrought and antiquated, with Soviets as cartoon villains.
Lucas Miller
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I purchased a Neversink Library bundle for myself for Christmas about five or six years ago. I had only recently become aware of Melville House and was quite intrigued by the design of these books and the mission of the Neversink series, to make available titles which had been under-appreciated or unfortunately forgotten. I cannot quite recall if the bundle was ten pre-selected titles or if I chose the volumes myself. Over the intervening years I have read maybe two. After Midnight for sure, peo ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A delightful spy romp in which Dekobra makes much social and political commentary. Fast paced, brilliant dialogue, cunning spy plot. And he skewers the haughty Leninists! A grand entertainment.
Dec 18, 2012 rated it liked it
a fun glimpse at the culture and society hi-jinks of the european upper class in the mid 1920s. while the writing and the characters seemed a bit overblown and sensational, there is also a wonderful light-hearted escapism in reading descriptions of such extreme extravagance as well as the growing climate of tension, apprehension and excitement between the capitalist west and the strange echelons of the post-lenin soviet union.

the characterizations are mostly topical, but the atmosphere of eroti
Jay McNair
Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it
An enjoyable romp! Reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse in whimsy, comedy. There's a fine flavor to the sentences, especially the dialogue, as these characters talk as no real human can possibly ever have done: "Will you tell her for me that any of the kind of presents that Artaxerxes might offer would leave me cold, and that I'll countersign the papers for her concession when the rising sun surprises her in my arms."

Really a great translation.

From the exuberant dialogue to the outlandish characters to
Oct 19, 2012 rated it liked it
I had a bit of trouble deciding how to rate this; there were things I liked a lot about it, and things that very much annoyed me. The style is florid, sometimes to the point of seeming like parody, and while reviews have commented on the way that Dekobra keeps the tone light, even in the more harrowing scenes, I found that juxtaposition jarring rather than charming. I also found the character of Lady Diana annoying much of the time. All that said, at bottom it is quite a good spy-ish (not actual ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
'Charming' seems to be a word often used in reviews of The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars, and I can only concur.  It went down easily, like something smooth, milky and sweet but not too sweet.  There were some pointed barbs aimed at both English upper-class society and the Russian communist regime, but still I felt like I was skating across the surface, admiring the pretty bubbles and not being drawn in.  This may have had something to do with my expectations (after all  the blurb on my copy does ...more
Oct 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Such fun to read. Published in 1927 and out of print for 50 years it's spy novel set after the Russian Revolution. The main character is beautiful and independent Lady Diana Wynham. Learning she is facing financial ruin she asks her secretary Prince Gerard Seliman to go deal with the Soviets to gain control of the oil wells confiscated by the new regime. In his attempt to save her wealth Gerard crosses a very sadistic representative of the new secret police, lovely lady spies and possible redemp ...more
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was really amazing. Apparently it was a bestseller when it was published and it was just brought back into print. I got the original copy through ILL and it literally fell apart while I was reading it.

It is a perfect view into the world of 1925, with women locked into roles and trying to find a way out and the first inklings of what communism was doing to Russia (seriously, how prescient). All with some really interestingly descriptive passages and an out of this world vocabulary. Per
Oct 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Glad I bought this at this year's Brooklyn Book Festival. It's one of the earliest international spy novels and it caused a huge sensation when it was published in 1925. Lady Diana Wyndham is the ironically-named Madonna and an early manic pixie dream girl. I didn't find her an annoying mpdg, though, and mostly I sat back and enjoyed the cross-continental European travel.

Now I want to dip further into the spy genre.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
Published first in 1925, this book is a precursor to the James Bond international man of mystery type of book. I didn't really care about the plot (Parisians, rich people, communists, yachts, etc) but I really loved the way Dekobra describes things. His narrator deceives things so wittily that this book feels MUCH more modern than it is. So three stars.
Meg Lynch
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed it -- witty and charmingly written, but not overwrought, as some spy novels are. Trenchant observations about the philosophy and results (mostly results) of the recent Russian Revolution. First published in 1927.
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sort of a Murder on the Orient Express via P.G. Wodehouse... Reads very much of its time (1927), and I love the quote from the Times that's printed on the first page: "Railway travelers - appropriately enough - seem constantly to be reading it." New York Times, 1929
Susan Rothenberg
Mar 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Written in 1927 and recently reprinted - a story of intrigue involving a British woman, her French prince assistant and their involvement with a Russian Communist man and his very jealous lover who is the evil one in the book. An interesting time piece, but not great.
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
A treat to read...effervescent and fun, with a strong, daring female protagonist. A gem of a book.
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Meh. Promising start but dragged on way too long. I wanted more of the Madonna but instead the narrator gets fairly annoying. Skippable.
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a great period piece.
Dec 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A book popular and emblematic of its era. It reminds me if Lawrence Olivier, famous in his time but when seen with modern eyes looks overacted and saccharine.
Prince Gerard Séliman is a little bit James Bond and a lot bit Jacques Clouseau.
Mary Ann
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fun, loved the dialogue!
Oct 22, 2012 marked it as to-read
Recommended by The Head Butler
Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Charming, though slightly dated, tale of espionage, love, gallantry and human foibles. Apparently, immensely popular in its day but still worthy of a quick, light read.
May 02, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was a slow burn-it didn't really pick-up into two-thirds of the way in. An interesting story that takes you through some unique lands and adventures. The afterword is well worth the read.
Jul 27, 2013 rated it liked it
"They say that to go away is to die a little, but it's my theory that to die would be to go too far and that to travel is simply to change one's ideas."
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Born Maurice Tessier in Paris in 1885, he adopted the pseudonymn of Maurice Dekobra, which he used to write his novels, in 1908. His works began with romantic fiction and went on to become whodunnits.

He studied in France and Germany and he spoke three languages, French, English and German and began his career as a tri-lingual journalist at the age of 19. His first novel, Les Memoires de Rat-de-Cav
“The French are never serious. They juggle with principles, make fun of difficulties and have been walking the tightrope of virtuosity for ten centuries. A singular nation, you know.” 1 likes
“My dear friend, there are two things in this world about which no one can be sure: whether or not one is being deceived by a woman and whether or not a Communist is sincere.” 0 likes
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