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The Foreign Correspondent: A Novel by Alan…
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The Foreign Correspondent: A Novel (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Alan Furst

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905209,748 (3.73)49
gpaisley's review
ok. good, but not his best. moved quickly, more dialogue than usual. ( )
  gpaisley | Apr 25, 2012 |
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The Foreign



Promised much, delivered little.
It felt a little like he was avoiding telling the story he should have, maybe even really wanted to. A huge missed opportunity, no matter how languid, evocative and well-written it was.
I'll give some of his others a go, but there's gonna have to be a dramatic improvement after this let-down. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
Carlo Weisz is the foreign correspondent in question, a refugee from Trieste now covering the coming war for Reuters Paris. Weisz also is active in an Italian resistance group publishing Liberazione, a revived paper originally crushed by the Italian fascists, now smuggled into Italy, printed by sympathisers and distributed by hand. It becomes clear Mussolini's secret police, the OVRA, have targeted Liberazione and Weisz's group come under threat. Weisz, too, for reasons personal and patriotic, becomes involved in efforts to undermine the National Socialists, after renewing an affair with Christa Zameny, now married to a Prussian in Berlin. The narrative follows the threads of various activities, slowly revealing in miniature the overall clandestine efforts to oppose fascism in Europe 1938-39.

The familiar Furst study of Hitchcock's Everyman caught up in extreme circumstances, and as with Alfie's protagonists, the Everyman (and Woman) here is primer inter pares, not James Bond but clearly not a typical example of resourcefulness, personal initiative, or nerve. Nevertheless, Furst weaves an engaging history lesson amid the wide-ranging action, and invites meditation on the place of the individual in history.

//

The question arises: To what extent is the outcome of this war, of any war, influenced by these espionage efforts? Similar question with respect to individual efforts in battle, dilemma besetting individual soldiers when asked to defend a hopeless position or follow dubious orders, whether the war at large is steered one way or another. Suspect it cannot be answered in the individual case, but trusted that overall it can tip the balance. Layered on that: the personal meaning arising from one's choice to uphold personal ideals, translating principles into action, irrespective of the outcome.

Tempting to portray Furst as telling the same archetypal story repeatedly, in different guise and across various milieux. It is comforting, and somehow fittingly realistic in that we know the overarching outcome, what is unknown are the particulars attending this or that person, one or another mission or event. Perhaps a restatement of the above question on individual efficacy.

The simple map as frontispiece finally made clear to me that the Arrondissements of Paris are arranged in a clockwise spiral, not concentric circles. The Brasserie Heininger awaits customers in the 4th. ( )
  elenchus | Nov 24, 2013 |
Definitely worth a read. ( )
  stacy_chambers | Aug 22, 2013 |
I’ve heard good things about Alan Furst’s spy novels. They’re set almost exclusively in the pre-WWII “rise of fascism” era or during WWII itself and contain immersive detail about the events, politics, and general life of the time period. I like spy novels. I like WWII history. From the sounds of things, it should be just the type of thing to float my boat. Or trip my trigger. Or tickle my pickle. Take your pick. So when I selected The Foreign Correspondent (Furst’s 2006 entry in his Night Soliders series, now 11 books strong) as one of my audio book reads for my trip down to Orlando last month, I expected to be treated to a riveting tale of WWII espionage, intrigue, and danger.

But I wasn’t.

Oh, there was espionage, intrigue, and danger—just not enough of it to make the tale riveting. Actually, it was kind of boring. The historical aspect was well done and quite interesting, but the plot moved sluggishly, and I kept waiting for a rise in action that never came. Guess it was a good thing I wasn’t holding my breath. Let me tell you a little bit about the plot so you can see what I mean.

The protagonist is one Carlo Weisz, a foreign correspondent for the Reuters news agency during the Spring of 1939. He’s also an Italian émigré living in Paris, one of the many artists, professors, and intellectuals that were forced to flee Italy when Mussolini and his blackshirts took power. He and his émigré friends operate one of the many émigré newspapers in Paris, writing propaganda against the Fascisti regime and covertly distributing it back within Italy. When the editor of the magazine is killed by the Italian secret police, Carlo agrees to take on the editorial duties. In the meantime, he makes several trips to reporting assignments around the region for Reuters—hot button locales like Spain, Prague, and even Germany itself. War is looming, the Germans and the Italians have allied themselves in war, and the only question is which spark is going to set off the European powder keg—stuff that makes for entertaining newsprint if nothing else.

Carlo’s travels have two primary outcomes. They put him in contact with an old lover, a German countess who is involved in resistance activities against the Nazis. They also get him noticed by the British Secret Service. Carlo helps both parties (the former willingly, the latter only with heavy-handed coercion). He helps his lady by smuggling secret documents out of Germany. He helps the British by writing the biography of an Italian colonel that fought in Spain against Franco and his fascists. Somewhere along the line he tries to convince the lady to leave Germany, but no dice. By the time she’s willing to go, it’s too late for her to leave legally and Carlo can’t get her out himself. Therefore he appeals to the Brits for help. They strike a deal—Carlo will make an appearance in Italy to rally the home team and increase production on their magazine. The Brits will exfiltrate the girl. They huddle, break, and go off to take care of business.

The whole time I kept expecting the slowly mounting tension to explode, to finally get to the high point of the novel where the shit hits the fan, everyone’s running for their lives, and feats of derring-do save the day. Well, maybe not derring-do. This ain’t a James Bond flick. But something, y’know? In the end Carlo goes to Italy for a while, has a few tense moments when he believes he’s being followed by the secret police (but isn’t), and then hitches a ride home with some Swedes. When he gets to Paris his lady love is waiting for him, and it’s happily ever after—except for that whole impending war thing.

That was my problem with the book overall. Nothing really happens. Oh, there’s enough subtle intrigue and foreboding to give an old lady a heart attack, but nothing ever comes of it. It’s just… kind of boring. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Spycraft isn’t all excitement and shootouts and naked chicks. Real spycraft is long periods of tedious boredom punctuated by heart-racing fear. Given his attention to historical detail, I guess it’s not surprising that Furst’s novel was more realistic than most—even if it made for a less entertaining book. And really, how much derring-do can you expect from a journalist whose idea of “fighting back” against fascist oppression is writing some whiny articles?

What The Foreign Correspondent lacks in excitement, though, it makes up for with nearly everything else. The novel is amazingly-well researched. Furst crafts realistic (if somewhat boring) characters and an immersive historical setting using style and language that are measured, understated, and elegant. I could almost imagine I was back in Paris with Carlo and the rest of the gang. It was a lot like being thrown into the DeLorean and burning rubber back in time to punch Mussolini in the face. Or write nasty articles about him. Same thing.

The Foreign Correspondent wasn’t the most exciting book I’ve ever read, but it had enough of a silver lining to make me glad that I read it nonetheless. That’s why I give it three stars. ( )
1 vote WillyMammoth | Apr 29, 2012 |
ok. good, but not his best. moved quickly, more dialogue than usual. ( )
  gpaisley | Apr 25, 2012 |
Another of Furst’s novels set in the period just prior to the Second World War. This one is located mainly in Paris, with some scenes in Spain, Germany and Italy. As usual, Furst delightfully captures the atmosphere of foreboding, suspicion and intrigue. This time, the action centres on a group of Italian émigrés who attempt to undermine Mussolini, via their opposition newspaper that they smuggle into Italy. The editor, Carlo Weisz, through his reporting for Reuters, comes to the attention of the British Secret Service and becomes enmeshed in their schemes to disrupt German and Italian co-operation. Altogether, this is a powerful evocation of the period.
  camharlow | Dec 30, 2011 |
Made even more interesting by traveling through some of the territory covered by the book. Reading some of the history of early WWII Spain/France/Italy at the same time was doubly interesting. One of a dozen or so I read on a Mediterranean cruise. ( )
  GTTexas | Nov 2, 2010 |
Good, almost very good. Carlo Weisz of Reuters in Paris and Berlin at the dawn of the second World War. ( )
  EricPMagnuson | Nov 11, 2009 |
I picked this one up in December 2008 as an eBook for the Kindle when Random House offered it for free through Amazon.
  elsi | Jul 15, 2009 |
Alan Furst is an impressive author. This a spy type novel with good historial references. I see his has written a lot, so I guess I`m behind the times. Have one more on tap---The Spies of Warsaw.
  kerrlm | Jul 25, 2008 |
Expatriate Italians in Paris produce an underground newspaper. ( )
  picardyrose | Jul 20, 2008 |
Not the "007" genre of spy thrillers, but rather the story of everyday people of conscience attempting to deal with the political evil of pre-WW II. Understated and atmospheric, this historical thriller perfectly captures the period just prior to WW II. ( )
1 vote fieldsli | Apr 24, 2008 |
With 'Foreign Correspondent', Alan Furst's renown continues to grow. Furst once again centers his novel in pre-World War Two Paris, but this time his protagonist hails from southern Europe - Italy - rather than France or eastern Europe.

Carlo Weisz is a journalist with the Associated Press (in a time when the AP was still a very big deal) in Paris where he has landed after fleeing Mussolini's Fascist Italy (absurdly Fascist, as one of Furst's character's suggests?). The book opens with a political assassination in Paris and then we find Weisz in the waning days of the Spanish Civil War and where he makes a connection that serves him well while covering the Republicans.

Weisz is also active in publishing a resistenza newspaper that is smuggled back into Italy. As per usual, Weisz is a rather ordinary, if talented, man with good moral instincts. Slowly he is drawn into ever more daring acts of resistance. Along the way he renews a love interest in Berlin just before things go from ugly to intolerable. Weisz seeks to use his career and his underground work to somehow rescue the fraulein from Herr Himmler's Gestapo.

Furst once again uses the backdrop of Europe edging to the precipice of war - Paris, Nazis, the Spanish Civil War, a love affair - to give us another great historical spy novel. I'v read reviews that complained about plot weakness, but plot has never been a strength of Furst's books. ( )
1 vote dougwood57 | Mar 9, 2008 |
There are a number of reasons why I didn’t like Mr. Furst’s “The Foreign Correspondent,” slow style, greater than thou attitude, superciliousness, the blind eye it turns towards the French’s duplicity toward anti-Semitism, etc. But what I really can’t abide is when a story is boring and boy was this one somnolent. The novel is short, running only 270 pages, but it was painful page turning. Obviously Mr. Furst’s writing style doesn’t appeal to me and I made a mistake in thinking that I could comb the depths of French pomposity, I was wrong. I am sorry. ( )
  BruderBane | Oct 13, 2007 |
I've like other Furst books more, but this one was entertaining enough. I think what I've liked most about the others is that they present a view of WWII from viewpoints that are sympathetic, but completely foreign to me (Polish, Check, etc.)

There is at least one amusing scene in The Foreign Correspondent where the protagonist meets some characters from other novels, playing out a scene from that other novel from a different viewpoint. Given that the world of spies and spying immediately before and during WWII in France is necessarily small, I supposed the surprise should be that this hasn't happened earlier.

While Furst normally deals with characters who are actively involved in espionage, willingly or unwillingly, Carlo Weisz only takes on that role at the very end, and only to a small degree. Somehow I didn't find the workings of an Italian ex-patriot opposition newspaper group as compelling and interesting as a reporter trying to figure out who he is actually spying for, or recruited soldier and killer trying to hold on to himself and find a way through and out. Weisz is an interesting man, and the story certainly kept me reading, but I still felt like something was missing. ( )
1 vote grizzly.anderson | Jun 30, 2007 |
good read and good sense of atmosphere ( )
  robertg69 | Dec 25, 2006 |
A thriller set in the days just before the 2nd World War mostly following the character Carlo Weisz an Italian newspaper reporter for Reuters and his own clandestine anti-fascist newspaper called 'Liberazione'. The editor for 'Liberazione' is assassinated by agents of the 'OVRA' a secret intelligence network of the Italian dictator Mussolini while Weisz is in Spain covering the civil war on the Republican side. On his return Weisz accepts the job as Liberazione's new editor. As OVRA continues to menace Liberazione's staff the French and British intelligence agencies themselves get in on the action. Meanwhile Weisz's other employer Reuters is also keeping him busy sending him off to Germany where Weisz gets a first hand look at Hitler's nazi regime as it gears up for the coming world war. He also reacquaints himself with a former german girlfriend as deadset against her regime as he is of Mussolini's fascists. This book is written in an engaging and intelligent style. Although a thriller Furst is in control of his material the entire way. It is insightful as to the times and is not overpaced. It is suspenseful until the very end. A very good read. ( )
  lriley | Aug 14, 2006 |
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