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Night Soldiers: A Novel
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Product Description

Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates
the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944. Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic novel, a work on a grand scale.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Furst at his best
    I've read and own quite a lot of Furst books and this one was my favorite. I was truly captivated by the story and had a hard time putting the book down. A good story coupled with real history make this book a winner....more info
  • A Superb Work of Historical Fiction
    This novel carries us straight back into the eastern Europe and Balkans of Eric Ambler's great pre-World War II novels, but it then adds a dash of the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, and Paris before and during the war in a tour de force of the hatreds, passions, and random events which spun across Europe from 1934 to 1945. At one level it is a romantic novel of a man who refuses to give up on life despite some brutally hard lessons (including watching his brother being beaten to death as a teenager by fascists in his Bulgarian village and being trained into the Soviet intelligence system at a time of tremendous brutality to ordinary humans).

    Furst's specialty is the man or woman who is trying to find a way to have a decent breakfast, adequate clothing, and a warm dry room to live in and yet who finds the draw of other people irresistible and the overhanging violence of the era a permanent background against which life is lived. He is able both to make the personal important and yet also to acknowledge the powerful reality of tides that were shaping history and changing lives.

    Furst is a romantic realist in the best sense of the Americans who fought the Second World War with ferocity and determination for the best of ideals. He is vividly aware that brutality exists and can destroy lives but is unwilling to allow that to crush his spirit or make him less human. The horror exists but it is not definitive as long as humans insist on hope and love.

    This is a superb work and the kind history classes could use to help their students understand that behind all those facts were warm and passionate people who mattered both individually and in the larger sense of history....more info

  • Excellent Book 1 of Furst's WW2 Espionage Output
    First of all, no writer can approach Furst's ability to convey the oppressive atmosphere of Europe in the years leading up to WWII and the war years. What LeCarr¨¦ did for the Cold War, Furst does for the fifteen years preceding it. Here, in the first of his six novels so far on the covert intelligence wars of the era, he establishes his style and tone. The book starts in a small fishing village in Bulgaria in the early 1930s, where a teenager in forced to watch a fascist militia beat his brother to death. Furst carefully shows how a Soviet agent eventually comes to his town and recruits him to the NKVD, starting him down a long journey into the darkness of espionage. The book then proceeds in a somewhat fractured episodic manner, as the Bulgarian Khristo grows up as a night soldier (spy), struggling to stay alive and return to a normal life, in his own personal (to borrow the phrase from Celin¨¦) journey to the end of night.

    The book takes Khristo from terrifying training in Moscow, to the sad lost cause of the Spanish Civil War (where he sees first hand how Germany used the alliance with Franco as a proving ground for new weapons and tactics), to occupied France, and eventually back through the Balkans. Khristo is a sympathetic character, but like many of Furst's leading men-indeed, this may be a feature of all spies and not Furst's fault-he is a little too enigmatic and withdrawn to fully capture the reader's heart. At the core of the book is a small cadre of friends from his training days, who, despite shifting allegiances and loyalties over the fifteen years or so, try as much as possible to help each other survive. Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of the book, in it's episodic construction, is that in covering such a large swath of time and locations, it's hard to keep track of who in who (especially once you introduce cover identities and aliases), who they are working for (agencies and factions proliferate), and under what motivation.

    Despite these difficulties, the book is certainly worth reading for its amazing level of detail and tension in set piece sequences, as well as it's ability to convey a sense of Europe gone mad-trapped between the equal horrors of fascism and Stalinist communism....more info

  • Furst -- A Better Novelist Than Historian..
    I enjoy Alan Furst's novels immensely! As many reviewers have stated (here and in the press), Furst is a master at depicting Eastern Europe in the interwar years. His strength is atmosphere. He paints a picture in words that reflects the precariousness of life. As you read, you can FEEL yourself in Paris or Moscow or Madrid. You can SEE the characters, the cafes, and the seedy hotels. You can SMELL the Gauloises and TASTE the pastis.
    Furst's plots, however, are weaker -- with twists more than slightly unbelievable (Stoianev just "happens" to see the Brotherhood Front symbol painted on the half-sunken barge in the Danube!). His cavalier approach to historical facts undermines his work as well -- either he researches poorly or underestimates his readers. I am willing to grant him artistic license, but he dubs the POUM as an anarchist organization (It's "Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista" -- a Trotskyist group. One can't be both Marxist and anarchist). Since this was George Orwell's militia -- described so well in the renowned "Homage to Catalonia" -- Furst fails Spanish Civil War 101! He also speaks of Stoianev's girlfriend frequenting a cafe in Paris because Picasso and Modigliani are seen there. Modigliani died in 1920. She must have hoped to meet his ghost! Unfortunately, there are a number of such lapses.
    Don't let me sound too strident. Furst's novels -- starting with "Night Soldiers" -- are good reading. I've read them all. They're solid four star material!...more info
  • A worthy heir to Le Carre in the literary thriller genre.
    Those coming late to the game, like me, are perhaps dimly aware of Alan Furst's prominence, lately, as _the_ World War II spy thriller writer. He's far too young to have any firsthand knowledge of the war, but he spent some of his early life in Paris, a city prominently featured in many of his novels, and he has clearly drank deeply from the well of mid-twentieth century fiction and autobiography. Hemingway, Orwell, Koestler, Solzhenitsyn, certainly, but also, I think, Sholokhov, Sartre, Babel, and other writers who lived through -- or died in -- Europe's cataclysmic struggle with Communism and Fascism: Furst seems to have read them all, digested them and managed to put them back together in a very compelling manner.

    Night Soldiers follows a young Bulgarian man, Khristo Stoianev, who is recruited by Soviet intelligence in 1934. By a stroke of good luck, Khristo takes to the NKVD's training extremely well; his bad luck, though, is to be on hand just as the Stalinist purges get underway. The purges catch up to him in revolution-torn Spain, where he has been dispatched to infiltrate the Republican side. This first section of the novel is absolutely brilliant; Furst's re-creation of Stalinist Moscow and Civil War-era Spain glitter with telling details, and the growing weight of suspicion, betrayal and counter-espionage press on the reader as on Khristo himself, forcing one ahead faster and faster with the novel.

    Furst's characters are also well-drawn, if rather familiar from the war and espionage novelists of years past: the world-weary Russian spymaster, drinking away his fear; the naive American drawn into a dark world beyond her ken; the jolly Eastern European emigre with a well-worn grudge and a secret plan for revenge. Furst falters somewhat in the later portions of the novel, after Khristo has fled Spain, languished in a Paris jail and joined up with the French Resistance in the struggle against the German occupiers. Here Furst seems to tread water a bit, in particular with the character of an American counterpart to Khristo, similarly drawn into the struggle almost by accident. Things pick up again toward the end, as a last mission draws Khristo -- now in the service of the OSS -- further east, back toward his home, across war-torn Europe.

    Furst's novels tell the sort of untellable stories that one can only imagine from the obituary pages, as the last survivors of those years silently pass away. And they tell those stories very well, combining genuine literary talent with a gift for drama and suspense -- if the mainstream thriller moves to meet Furst halfway, airport bookstores will be a much better place....more info

  • Wonderful, engaging read!
    Night Soldiers is one of Alan Furst's longer novels, a fact that was most pleasing to me as I was carried along by the compelling story. I encountered him a few years ago in my never ending search for new authors of espionage/intrigue stories and have read all but his most recent novel. Reading other reviews I'm reminded that Mr. Furst approaches this genre much as Eric Ambler did, taking ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary circumstances. But as much as I've enjoyed Mr. Ambler's work, I find Alan Furst's writing more nuanced. He exhibits the skill of the finest writers in his evocation of place. I was transported over and over again into the world he created with his words. I appreciate the fact he brings his readers into locales not often explored in this genre. We visit Bulgaria and Spain in this book and Hungary/Poland in the Polish Officer. And his presentation of pre-war Paris is magical. As a student of history I am especially fond of writers who give me a grounded experience of both time and place. Alan Furst does both extremely well. If you haven't read him, do. If you have, you surely need no encouragement to read more. (If you like Alan Furst, you might want to check out Robert Littell whose most recent book is Company - a Novel of the CIA.)...more info
  • Story of Intrigue and War
    Alan Furst explores pre and war time Europe though the eyes of Khristo Stoianev in his book Night Soldier. Khristo is a Bulgarian youth who watches helplessly as his younger brother is kicked to death by Nazis. Feeling powerless he hooks up with revolutionaries. Soon he must flee from Bulgaria and journeys to the Soviet Union to train as a spy. Night Soldier's is a chronicle of his life through a turbulent time as Khristo journeys through Europe.

    Furst tells this story of intrigue and war with great skill. The story begins with the brutal death of Khristoys brother and continues from one war torn setting to another. It appears that there was no place of peace and hope for the people of this time and place. Furst clearly defines the brutality of the period and the difficult moral choices which the people of Europe were faced with. He has peopled the story with intriguing characters who react with courage, strength, cunning, avarice and fear. Many like Khristo are trying their best to see their way through these years to survive.

    Khristo is an ever interesting character. First driven to do what is right he is given a taste of the difficult choices in the life of a spy, when a lover betrays him and his superiors request that he take care of her. He soon finds the Russian tentacles under Stalin to be as evil as the Nazi's who he is fighting. He would like to elude them both and tries to, but in a warring Europe it is no easy task.

    For those interested in stories set in WWII or tales of intrigue this book is recommended....more info

  • Epic in Scope with attention to detail
    Furst is one of those writers who makes every passage worth savoring. The prosaic descriptions of the minor events make this a great read. The fascinating subject matter of the eastern european perspective on the period leading up to, and during world war II make for a great story. We're carried through an extraorinary range of experiences in this book, but it never feels implausible. ...more info
  • Full Length
    To date all the novels of Alan Furst have been issued in the US as soft cover books, and they have generally been briefer than I like. There was even a two book cycle that could have been presented as one. "Night Soldiers", by comparison is a lengthy novel encompassing well over 400 pages and gives the author a much greater opportunity to demonstrate his talents. Mr. Furst's novels generally are described as taking place between 1933-1945, "Night Soldiers", is spread over this entire time frame and a bit more.

    Much is written about the historical accuracy of the author's work, there is no issue with making such a claim as long as it is valid. Mr. Furst even goes to the point of suggesting historical reading that he uses for his readers to also enjoy, which also reinforces the idea that he is concerned with historical accuracy. Unless the reader has traveled to the cities and countries his books cover, we all must rely on what he tells us as fact. Major historical events can always be checked independently, but the details of day to day living, architecture, and countless other details we must take on faith. In his book, "Red Gold", he made a variety of errors that would not be noticed by most of his readers, and they were largely missed by me as well. Another reviewer shared his thoughts about the book with me, and my faith in Mr. Furst's accuracy was diminished. I don't speak French but those who do will note how poorly he represents the language in the book I mention. Again, in most issues the faults slide by, and some details would probably not be considered worthwhile by many to even note. However when an author places a historical event in the wrong year, there is no excuse, no defense, and credibility is damaged. This damage extends beyond the author to everyone participating in the chain of production of the book.

    I enjoyed the tale shared in, "Night Soldiers". I am again at the author's mercy for I have never been to most of the countries he has his characters visit prior to and through the end of World War II. Nonetheless it is the most complete work I have read by Mr. Furst as he follows the career of a disillusioned young man, his recruitment by the Russians and the subsequent changes in his sponsors and to varying extent his loyalties. He tends to morph much as the map of the Europe he inhabits changed in a very short number of years. Much of the main characters life is destroyed during the war and he too appears to represent the chaos that much of Eastern Europe survived only to be thrown under another brutal regime, the USSR, when the war came to a close.

    This work is more complex, in terms of the number of players the author presents, as well as their experiences and relationships. His work is not spy thriller, explosions one moment, and women the next. The cadence of his books are measured and more relaxed in their pace. I do not believe he is the author that John Le Care is, but if you like Le Care's method and manner of unrolling his longer stories I believe you will enjoy this man's as well. As to the accuracy that is continually touted about his work, I would suggest enjoying the work first, if like me you are unfamiliar with the settings and language. If you do find factual error share it with others, for the faith we place in the writers we invest our time and money in should not be taken for granted by giving us reading that is lacking in the very accuracy that is used to promote their work....more info

  • The dark underbelly of espionage
    I am fascinated by the books written by Alan Furst. They are all uniformly excellent, and they weave many tales of the Eastern and Central European theaters of World War II, both before its beginning, and then during the war itself. This book is in the same mold, with a dark, brooding atmosphere, and the scent of betrayal behind every action. There is no way for the protagonist to tell who is trustworthy among his aquaintances and comrades, he just must move forward with what he has planned to do. There are, occasionally, love interests in these books, but they are peripheral to the main thrust of the plot, and in this book, unlike some of the others, there is a consistent plot. There are disparate threads of storyline throughout, but they all appear to come together eventually before the book ends. It's clear from these works that the Europeans of that era were much different from the American actions, and what we learn from reading these works is that there was betrayal, but much heroism, during this most tragic of human conflict. I hope that the author continues to write many more of this type of book, for I will definitely read all of them....more info
  • Night Soldiers by Allen Furst
    The book was in excellent condition. The story is well written - good spy material - but have not finished it yet....more info
  • I put it down
    Prior to reading this, I read Furst's 'Dark Star' and 'Foreign Correspondent'. This is the first one I was able to put down (after reading 100 to 150 pages or so). I have yet to pick it up again. Perhaps it is due to my mood, or because far more important things are going on in my life. If it had been really compelling, however, I am sure I would have finished it weeks ago....more info
  • Slow start
    I managed about 120 pages of this book before I gave up. Pretty slow start. Historical fiction is my favorite genre but just could not get my arms around this one. Writing seemed very stilted to me. I am really surprised at the high ratings. ...more info
  • Integrity in a world gone mad
    As an espionage writer, Furst excels at capturing characters' emotions, and the atmosphere in which they are acting. As the action progresses from country to country, and year to year (1934-1945), each milieu has its own distinctive personality, geography and history. The overall theme is the protagonist's attempt to maintain his integrity in a world gone mad. There is a certain amount of contrivance in the plot, but the reader does not mind. Faye Berns was a fine secondary character, as was Sascha. Having read other Furst novels I was already familiar with the insanity of the Russian spy system and Stalin's government; I found the take on pre-WWII political life in a small village in Bulgaria especially enlightening....more info
  • Page Turner Succeeds on Several Levels
    It is important to pay particular attention to the early part of the book narrating Christo's NKVD training. The kernel of the book is planted there. It provides the ties that bind the novel and, at critical junctures, move the narrative along.

    Arguably, the more one is familiar with the period and its politics, the richer the novel becomes. The ideological complexities preceding WWII are explained effectively in terms of how they affect the characters. How the characters deal with the multi-level conflicts going on in Europe preceding and during World War II provides the development of a very interesting plot, vivid depictions and thrilling action... One also cares for these people.

    Friendship provides a motivic core. It proves to be steadfast and liberating. The emotionally warmest parts of the novel occur when friendship intervenes in the narrative. Not so usual for this type of novel. Then, Mr. Furst is not so usual a writer. Perhaps he ought to consider a Cold War sequel to this wonderful page-turner....more info

  • A very well researched piece of historical fiction
    I very much enjoyed this novel. It starts off a bit slow, but then careens forward into an amazing epic that spans from the early '30s to end of the second world war.

    The characters and storytelling are quite good, but Furst's true talent is compellingly recreate the tense atmosphere of wartime Europe. He frequently drops in lovely asides about the culture, history and eccentricities of the regions he uses as the backdrop for his story.

    I came away feeling like I know more about the Balkans and the Spanish Civil war than ever I learned in school.

    Other reviewers have commented on the abruptness of his finish, and I admit the book would have probably been better at 800 pages than 500. That's hardly a criticism for a writer as good as Furst.

    A delightful spy novel with excellent historical chops. It was a lovely journey....more info
  • Excellent historical Espionage Novel
    The quick review. Excellent espionage/noir novel that takes place in the darker recess of Europe pre and during World War 2. A fun and intriguing read.

    If you want to read the novel in total ignorance of the events contained within it skip the following paragraph. The following synopsis is pretty much spoiler free and just gives the bare bones plot of the novel. Night Soldier is the story of Khristo Stoianev from 1934 to 1945. The story of man swept by the tides of history that none the less manages to keep his head above the water. After the murder of his brother by Bulgarian National Union (the local fascists) members Khristo flees for his life lest that he be next. A Russian Communist recruiter has facilitated the escape, which leads to his recruitment to the NKVD (precursor to the KGB). Khristo who is not a communist is stuck in this evil juggernaut of a machine. The only exit is usually death. Like any member of the NKVD Khristo is subject to the bloody power struggles within it. A change in power at the top of the NKVD leaves Khristo with the short end of the stick. To save his life he flees Spain where he was involved in the civil war to Paris. It's very much of a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire since Germany soon annihilate the French and British forces. Khristo eventually hooks up with the French Resistance movement and trough them with the OSS. On one last mission for the OSS in Prague leads to surprise encounter with his past. Under constant threat to be captured by the Nazi's and with the Russians quickly approaching and Khristo must decide on how important a figure of his past is to him.

    Alan Furst fills this novel with enough interesting details and tid bits on the OSS, NKDV, the Spanish Civil War and the general conditions in Europe pre and during World War 2, that the novel would be worth buying just for that. Luckily for us readers the story of Night Soldiers is a fascinating one. It's full of interesting twists and turns and very enjoyable action sequences. Alan Furst has the ability to quickly give a history, vibe and attitude of the various locations in the novel that gives it greater depth. Alan Furst creates interesting three-dimensional characters with believable motivations and his minor characters are quickly delineated and have some substance to them. There are no cardboard cut outs in this novel.

    At times the novel feels so authentic that it feels like a biography and not a work of fiction. Alan Furst has done his research and it show's. I am just in the process of reading The Sword and the Shield: A history of the KGB and I can tell you that the details on the NKDV are spot on.

    If you enjoyed Phillip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy you will enjoy Night Solidiers. They both immerse you into the darkness that was the Third Reich in the case of Berlin Noir and Communist Russia in Night Soldiers. I had difficulty in putting down this book it was mesmerising. Well worth your time and hard earned cash....more info