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  • The World at Night
  • Written by Alan Furst
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780375758584
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  • The World at Night
  • Written by Alan Furst
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307432773
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A Novel

Written by Alan FurstAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Alan Furst

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43277-3
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
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fiction (56) espionage (47) wwii (31) paris (19) historical fiction (15) spy (14) mystery (14) france (12) novel (8) war (7) thriller (6) alan furst (5) historical (5) europe (4)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Paris, 1940. The civilized, upper-class life of film producer Jean Casson is derailed by the German occupation of Paris, but Casson learns that with enough money, compromise, and connections, one need not deny oneself the pleasures of Parisian life. Somewhere inside Casson, though, is a stubborn romantic streak. When he’s offered the chance to take part in an operation of the British secret service, this idealism gives him the courage to say yes. A simple mission, but it goes wrong, and Casson realizes he must gamble everything—his career, the woman he loves, life itself. Here is a brilliant re-creation of France—its spirit in the moment of defeat, its valor in the moment of rebirth.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

10 May, 1940

Long before dawn, Wehrmacht commando units came out of the forest on the Belgian border, overran the frontier posts, and killed the customs officers. Glider troops set the forest ablaze, black smoke rolling over the canals and the spring fields. On some roads the bridges were down, but German combat engineers brought up pontoon spans, and by first light the tanks and armored cars were moving again. Heading southwest, to force the river Meuse, to conquer France.


In Paris, the film producer Jean Casson was sleep. His assistant, Gabrielle Vico, tried to wake him up by touching his cheek. They'd shared a bottle of champagne, made love all night, then fallen dead asleep just before dawn. "Are you awake?" she whispered.

"No," he said.

"The radio." she put a hand on his arm in a way that meant there was something wrong.

What? The radio broken? Would she wake him up for that? It had been left on all night, now it buzzed, overheated. He could just barely hear the voice of the announcer. No, not an announcer. Perhaps an engineer--somebody who happened to be at the station when news came in was reading it as best he could:

"The attack...from the Ardennes forest..."

A long silence.

"Into the Netherlands. And Belgium. By columns that reached back a hundred miles into Germany."

More silence. Casson could hear the teletype clattering away in the studio. He leaned close to the radio. The man reading the news tried to clear his throat discreetly. A paper rattled.

"Ah...the Foreign Ministry states the following..."

The teleprinter stopped. A moment of dead air. Then it started up again.

"It is the position of the government that that this agresssion is an intolerable violation of Belgian neutrality."

Gabriella and Casson stared at each other. They were hardly more than strangers. This was an office romance, something that had simmered and simmered, and then, one night. But the coming of the war turned out to be, somehow, intimate, like Christmas, and that was a surprise to both of them. Casson could see how pale she was. Would she cry? He really didn't know very much about her. Young, and slim, and Italian--well, Milanese. Long hair, long legs. What was she--twenty-six? Twenty-seven? He'd always though that she fitted into her life like a cat, never off balance. Now she'd been caught out--here it was war, and she was smelly and sticky, still half-drunk, with breath like a dragon.

"Okay?" He used le slang Americain.

She nodded that she was.

He put a hand on her neck. "You're like ice," he said.

"I'm scared."

He went looking for a cigarette, probing an empty packet of Gitanes on the night table. "I have some," she said, glad for something to do. She rolled off the bed and went into the living room. Merde, Casson said to himself. War was the last thing he needed. Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, then Poland. France had declard war, but it meant nothing. Germany and France couldn't fight again, they'd just done that-- ten million dead, no much else accomplished. It was simply not, everybody agreed, logique.
Alan Furst|Author Q&A

About Alan Furst

Alan Furst - The World at Night

Photo © Shonna Valeska

Alan Furst is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. Now translated into eighteen languages, he is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, Blood of Victory, Dark Voyage, The Foreign Correspondent, The Spies of Warsaw, Spies of the Balkans, Mission to Paris, and Midnight in Europe. Born in New York, he lived for many years in Paris, and now lives on Long Island.

Author Q&A

Alan Furst describes the area of his interest as “near history.” His novels are set between 1933–the date of Adolf Hitler’s ascent, with the first Stalinist purges in Moscow coming a year later–and 1945, which saw the end of the war in Europe. The history of this period is well documented. Furst uses books by journalists of the time, personal memoirs–some privately published–autobiographies (many of the prominent individuals of the period wrote them), war and political histories, and characteristic novels written during those years.

“But,” he says, “there is a lot more”–for example, period newsreels, magazines, and newspapers, as well as films and music, especially swing and jazz. “I buy old books,” Furst says, “and old maps, and I once bought, while living in Paris, the photo archive of a French stock house that served newspapers of Paris during the Occupation, all the prints marked as cleared by the German censorship.” In addition, Furst uses intelligence histories of the time, many of them by British writers.

Alan Furst has lived for long periods in Paris and in the south of France. “In Europe,” he says, “the past is still available. I remember a blue neon sign, in the Eleventh Arrondissement in Paris, that had possibly been there since the 1930s.” He recalls that on the French holiday le jour des morts (All Saints’ Day, November 1) it is customary for Parisians to go to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. “Before the collapse of Polish communism, the Polish émigrés used to gather at the tomb of Maria Walewska. They would burn rows of votive candles and play Chopin on a portable stereo. It was always raining on that day, and a dozen or so Poles would stand there, under black umbrellas, with the music playing, as a kind of silent protest against the communist regime. The spirit of this action was history alive–as though the entire past of that country, conquered again and again, was being brought back to life.”

The heroes of Alan Furst’s novels include a Bulgarian defector from the Soviet intelligence service, a foreign correspondent for Pravda, a Polish cartographer who works for the army general staff, a French producer of gangster films, and a Hungarian émigré who works with a diplomat at the Hungarian legation in Paris. “These are characters in novels,” Furst says, “but people like them existed; people like them were courageous people with ordinary lives and, when the moment came, they acted with bravery and determination. I simply make it possible for them to tell their stories.”

Praise

Praise

“First-rate research collaborates with first-rate imagination....Superb.”
—The Boston Globe

“[The World at Night] earns a comparison with the serious entertainments of Graham Greene and John le Carré....Gripping, beautifully detailed...an absorbing glimpse into the moral maze of espionage.”
—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

“[The World at Night] is the world of Eric Ambler, the pioneering British author of classic World War II espionage fiction....The novel is full of keen dialogue and witty commentary....[T]hrilling.”
—Herbert Mitgang, Chicago Tribune

“With the authority of solid research and a true fascination for his material, Mr. Furst makes idealism, heroism, and sacrifice believable and real.”
—David Walton, The Dallas Morning News
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. If you asked Jean Casson to define the word honor, what would he say? Which, if any, of the following would be included: Loyalty to friends? Loyalty to country? Loyalty in love? Loyalty to self?

2. After his meeting with Simic, in which he is first offered the chance to work for British intelligence, Casson thinks to himself, "You think you know how the world works, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.". How would you say Casson's understanding of the world has changed by the novel's conclusion? Has he become one of the people who know how the world "really works"?

3. To what extent is Casson culpable for the death of his friend Langlade?

4. During the early years of the German Occupation of France, a common question, which Langlade poses to Casson, was this: "If your barber cuts hair under the Occupation, does that make him a collaborator?" How would you respond? What would you have done in similar circumstances?

5. Alan Furst has said that his books are written from the point of view of the nation where the story takes place. Describe the French point of view as it appears in The World at Night.

6. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe. What elements description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no firsthand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?

7. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels", and as "spy novels." He calls them "historical spy novels." Some critics have insisted that they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?

8. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in his books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? How do you know?

9. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the war in comfort? If not, why not?

10. How do the notions of good and evil work in The World at Night? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero? Describe Furst's use of realism in this regard.


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