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Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Night Soldiers (original 1988; edition 2009)

by Alan Furst

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1,033318,188 (3.95)125
Title:Night Soldiers
Authors:Alan Furst
Info:Phoenix (2009), Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, historical, espionage, 1930s, WWII, Europe, USA

Work details

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (1988)

  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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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. ( )
  bsiemens | Sep 26, 2015 |
Night Soldiers by Alan Furst is the first book in a long series of books set in different places and times within the setting of World War Two. The books don't have to be read in order and in that regard are rather like Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

Here it is Bulgaria, 1934. Khristo Stoianev is recruited by the Soviet Union's KKVD (secret intelligence service) after his brother is murdered by the local fascists. He's sent to Span during their Civil War.

The other Furst books I've read have been trade paperbacks. This time I tried something different — an audio read by George Guidall. Here is one of those times when I wish I had opted for print, despite counting Guidall as one of my all time favorite audiobook readers.

Furst puts a ton of detail into his books, as well as observations on local customs and human nature. But these tangents and asides don't work as monologues. They need to be skipped, skimmed and re-read depending on mood — and none of those options are easy on an audio. ( )
  pussreboots | May 5, 2015 |
Yes, but Kindle.
  Xleptodactylous | Apr 7, 2015 |
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

(summary from another edition)

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