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Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Night Soldiers (1988)

by Alan Furst

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Night Soldiers (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,086337,665 (3.92)132
Recently added byWhisper1, john257hopper, private library, scbarton, Flatulator, Avogt221, FOHHL, ArjayE
Legacy LibrariesLeslie Scalapino
  1. 10
    Zoo Station by David Downing (majkia)
    majkia: similar books in that they focus on ordinary people swept up into becoming spies.
  2. 10
    The Fort by Bernard Cornwell (ANeumann)
    ANeumann: Another great historical novel of a different era.
  3. 10
    Agincourt: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell (ANeumann)
    ANeumann: Another example of a great piece of historical fiction.

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» See also 132 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Deep, poignant, dark, ultimately satisfying, like a long difficult journey where much is accomplished and much is learned.

Interesting to compare Furst's Night Soldiers with the popular WWII spy thrillers of Ken Follett. Where reading Follett is smooth and easy as a skating rink, Furst is toilsome as a narrow mountain trail, full of rocks, caves, dead-ends and thorny ledges.

Not an easy read. In part because of the brutally painful experiences lived by the characters. But also because of the fictional technique: at times as oblique and murky as the world of espionage it depicts.

Furst has a habit of introducing new viewpoint characters just for one or two scenes. The effect is enriching, as we are given multiple perspectives on events and characters. But it's also difficult to follow, as the reader struggles to piece together information about what is happening and why--sort of like the mental work required of a spy.

Overall this is an excellent book, but you have to think hard and pay attention. ( )
4 vote JackMassa | Nov 23, 2016 |
2 out of 5 = it was ok.

I grabbed this audiobook edition at an Audible author sale to try out my first Night Soldiers after reading reviews that made comparisons to John Le Carre and other top espionage authors. It didn't come through for me though as it felt like a superficial travelogue through pre-WWII and WWII guerilla fights in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance with a cameo appearance in the Soviet Gulag. Sort of like Forrest Gump joins the NKVD and then has to get out (except it is spread out over 2 or 3 main characters (including an American that pops in about ½ way through). All of the background felt correct though, so the research was excellent. It was just that the lack of focus on a single character and too wide of a landscape made me miss the more human-weakness centred stories of those such as Le Carre. The reading by George Guidall was fine. ( )
  alanteder | Jul 22, 2016 |
In this first book of his thematic series, Furst seems to lay out the entire sweep of what later books take up in parts. The entirety of his timeline, and perhaps geography, are bracketed in Night Soldiers: from 1934 rural Bulgaria to 1944 war ruined Prague, in between a rare look at American espionage efforts, an extended detour into the Nazi & Soviet test grounds of the Spanish Civil War, a stint with the French Resistance in the Cambras region of southern France. In fact, locales cover the Continent and reach even to New York City, and the story extends a few months into the post-war period, but the perspective throughout retains a decided feel for Eastern Europe, underscored in Furst's choice of protagonist.

The plot follows Khristo Stoianev and the repercussions of his training by Soviets for espionage work. Stoianev and his comrades style themselves BF 825 (Brotherhood Front plus the "true" team standings following a training exam which outcome was unfairly determined).

There are signs of how Furst will refine his approach in later books. I think here he overplays the character of Fay, who "made a difference, saved lives" -- in later books, this message is recast as a central question to be confronted, seldom answered so black and white as here. It wasn't necessary, either: Furst shows what happens after he tells it, and the showing was far more ambiguous than the telling. Should have let the showing stand for itself, and in later books he does.


The last blurb in my Kindle edition notes Night Soldiers is proxy for the unwritten memoir of so many dead agents. The blend of personal narrative and seemingly accurate factual descriptions of operations, outlooks, challenges indeed fits the tone of such a memoir.

An anecdote reveals the origin of the term fifth column: (Spanish) Nationalist General Mola's siege of Madrid, and the question put by an international journalist as to which of his four columns would have the honour of entering the city first. Mola replies quizzically that he has a fifth column inside Madrid, and it will lead the assault.

The famed assassination at Brasserie Heininger, mentioned in so many other books, though the specific bullet in the wall behind a certain booth wasn't called out. ( )
1 vote elenchus | Jan 3, 2016 |
I liked the way this story takes place on the margins of world war II. Main character from the Balkans who is pulled into spy work for soviet union. Ends up in Spain during the civil war, in France during the German occupation, etc. Takes you into the obscure places of eastern europe. Ended up liking this quite a lot. Often find Furst complicated to follow with audiobooks. Quite loaded with information and talk. But this book did capture me (listed as audiobook, quite a bit on a road trip, maybe that was the secret). ( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 25, 2015 |
I perceive that my middling rating for this book is largely influenced by my decision to listen to the audio edition rather than read the print edition. The first third of the book creates the setting and introduces the main characters slowly by inference and realization. For example, there are many characters that are introduced for one or two paragraphs and then never referenced again; it is only by continual reference that one realizes who are the main characters. These characters actions are inferred when another characters reflects on having witnessed an event. The scene changes frequently and without obvious breaks in the flow. I became so confused that I had to re-read entire sections from a borrowed, print copy to get back on track. The latter two-thirds of the book were more clear but I still lost the train of thought too many times.

I wish that I had decided to read only the print version. The author's writing style is excellently formatted for that mode. ( )
1 vote bsiemens | Sep 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alan Furstprimary authorall editionscalculated
Noble, LouiseCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, GeorgeMapsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Push out a bayonet. If it strikes fat, push deeper. If it strikes iron, pull back for another day.

—V. I. Lenin

May 1922
Executive Order 9621


The Secretary of War shall, whenever he deems it compatible with the national interest, discontinue any activity transfered by this paragraph and wind up all affairs relating thereto.

—Harry S. Truman

September 20, 1945
First words
In Bulgaria, in 1934, on a muddy street in the river town of Vidin, Khristo Stoianev saw his brother kicked to death by fascist militia.
If you had nothing else in the world you could at least have a secret. (Chapter 1)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375760008, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:57 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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. 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 mode in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the Freanch underground in 1944.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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