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The Polish Officer by Alan Furst

The Polish Officer (original 1995; edition 2008)

by Alan Furst

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8821910,042 (3.9)76
Title:The Polish Officer
Authors:Alan Furst
Info:Phoenix (2008), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Historical Fiction, Spy, Thriller, Night Soldiers, 14 in 14

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The Polish Officer by Alan Furst (1995)

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
The officer of the title is Alexander de Milja, a cartographer in the Polish military who is recruited into the underground when Poland falls to Hitler's troops. His first assignment is to transport the gold of Poland's treasurey on the first segment of its trip out of the country. Other missions follow, in Paris and elsewhere in occupied France, and in Ukraine and Polish border towns after the Germans invade the Soviet Union.

Furst paints a vivid portrait of life under occupation in the various locales, as well as detailing aspects of spying as part of an underground resistance. As in his other books, his characters, everyday people who rise to the occasion, come to life and his prose give the "you are there" quality that make his writing so addictive. Somehow, a series of missions add up to a chilling, thrilling whole. ( )
  ShellyS | Apr 2, 2015 |
Alan Furst has a very unique style of narration and character development. Instead of a typical story arc, the book is broken up into several different stages in de Milja's experience as a spy during WWII. As the novel jumps between events, the reader is given an often oblique description of the characters and events. After I got used to the style I found that you were given a very rich understanding of the time and place without being bogged down in details. Overall a good read for anyone interested in historical fiction and wanting more than a mere thriller. ( )
  fader_a | Mar 11, 2015 |
Alexander de Milja has been offered a miraculous choice. With Poland on the brink of surrender to the Germans, he has a decision to make: stay in the Polish army as Captain and serve on the battlefield (a guaranteed suicide) or join an underground Polish resistance group Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej. No brainer. His first mission is to secure a successful route for Poland's Gold Reserve to the safety of England via a refugee train headed for Bucharest. This is at a time when the war was filled with uneasy partnerships and extremely unstable alliances. How anybody trusted anyone else is a mystery. Even though it was everyman for himself, de Milja infiltrated a variety of groups and formed key relationships which helped him keep his disguises believable. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Feb 11, 2015 |
Synopsis | As the German army overruns Warsaw in September 1939, a Polish cartographer accepts an unexpected offer to serve an intelligence role rather than face defeat with his regular army unit. Alexander de Milja is resourceful and (he admits to himself) lucky so far in surviving various operations against the Nazi war machine: spiriting national gold reserves out of Poland 'to help keep alive the idea of a nation'; undermining Germany's plans for a Channel Invasion of Great Britain; assisting Ukrainian nationalists with a supply train demolition and a prison break. He moves from Warsaw to Paris, Calais to Barcelona, Brest-Litovsk to the Ukrainian backcountry. De Milja is left with the question of whether his efforts make a difference, whether he contributes anything lasting in support of his ideals, or rather, if his struggle and extemporizing in fact amount to nothing.


As he does throughout the Night Soldiers novels, Furst here implicitly addresses some perennial concerns of life in wartime, for soldier and civilian alike. De Milja regularly encounters other characters who mostly want only to survive, or who seemingly make a partisan decision at odds with the regular flow of their lives. Mostly, though, the questions have to do with how best to join the struggle. The Polish Officer emphasises the necessity for faith in organisation and coordination, recognising that one's own little contributions may not be the key but with the efforts of others, can help fund that crucial piece of the puzzle that wins a battle, which turns the war. Yet one also is aware always that at times organisation and coordination fall apart, and then ... one's efforts can be suicide, might only lead others to their deaths. Always weighing the one outcome against the other. In a word: discipline. This implicit need for coordination, and the concomitant faith that unseen others are doing their part and one's orders truly do help realise that joint aim, this uneasy alliance of necessity and belief is the sole justification for military discipline, and at the same time, a reminder of the moral hazard always living alongside.

Furst focuses not on the historical key battles and linchpins, but the smaller and moderate successes and efforts, and leaves implicit that these helped weave a patchwork. For we know the eventual outcome. He helps us see perhaps a little ways into how it was made, the efforts and sacrifices made to allow it to form, and a glimpse into the many, many dead ends or feints.

For the historians of WWII: De Milja's time in France, behind the lines, working however haphazardly to funnel intelligence to the British on German assets and operations, raises the intriguing question of whether, strategically, the early fall of France was to the long term detriment of the Nazis. That is: it put partisans aligned with the Allies behind front lines, and in a position to divine the German war strategy, and counter their plans. Was this a greater or lesser advantage than opposing Germany from France, if the Allies had rebuffed the German invasion? Same question could apply to any country, but something about French history, status as a nation, its location, and (maybe this is it) its size somehow suggest to me the question applies specially to France. Perhaps an ethical dilemma akin to that facing the Allies in deciding whether to use atomic weapons against civilians in Japan, or to conduct an invasion of military positions in the Pacific. I wonder whether the question of France's strategic contribution was ever addressed prospectively, and helped inform Chamberlain's appeasement, or whether France's sudden fall was never considered plausible by anyone but the Nazis. ( )
1 vote elenchus | Oct 22, 2014 |
Before the war Alexander de Milja was a cartographer and the start of this book finds him as a Captain in the Polish army just as Warsaw is about to fall to the invading German army. He's given a choice of dying on the battlefield or continue to serve his country as a member of the intelligence service. In choosing the latter his first task is to secure a safe route out of the country for Poland's gold reserve so it can make its way to England for safe keeping. After working for a while in Warsaw de Milja is then sent to Paris as the replacement for the senior intelligence officer in France and the third part of the book ends with him working with guerrilla fighters in Ukraine.

The other books I've read from this author create a very believable atmosphere and although this time around the main protagonist is not quite as engaging as previous efforts I was still drawn in to the events of the novel as they unfolded. Furst's research is again telling and it's almost like the reader is unknowingly being given a history lesson as well as an enjoyable tale from WWII. The only other quibble I have with this book is the ending. It rather meanders to a close rather than offering up any meaningful resolution. A shame but it won't put me off picking up another from the series. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Aug 30, 2014 |
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In Poland, on the night of 11 September 1939, Wehrmacht scout and commando units - elements of Kuechler's Third Army Corps - moved silently around the defenses of Novy Dvor, crossed the Vistula over the partly demolished Jablonks Bridge, and attempted to capture the Warsaw Telephone Exchange at the northern edge of the city.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375758275, Paperback)

September 1939. As Warsaw falls to Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Captain Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission: to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partizan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbor during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:36 -0400)

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In September 1939, as German forces ravage Poland, Captain Alexander de Milja, a Polish intelligence officer with the resistance underground, risks his life in the treacherous world of global espionage to help his country.

(summary from another edition)

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