Hotel Europejski
Photo of the Hotel Europejski by afagen used under a Creative Commons license.

Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw (Random House, 2008).
A spy novel set mostly in Warsaw in 1937, with the French military attache at the center of a complex cast of characters.  Furst is the master of atmospherics, of recapturing the mood and feel of a Europe on the brink of war.  His Warsaw is long, long gone, so this is hardly a guide to modern Poland, but that is the fun of it.  I liked this one more than Furst’s last few, and I really like all of them.

Here is Furst’s site. Here is Wikipedia on Furst. Take a look at Google Books. Tracee has an excerpt. Janet Maslin (The New York Times) says Furst can invest even the most humdrum situation with elegant acuity. Jonathan Shapiro likens Furst to Chopin. Fred Hasson says Furst’s depictions of old-world Europe are documentary and nostalgic. Jake Seliger was disappointed. David H. Schleicher was a little disappointed. Anna wasn’t. Oliver Marre (The Guardian) thinks Furst’s mastery of period detail is extraordinary. Listen to Furst read from the book. Jesse Kornbluth says the genius of the novel is that small people have large effects. Jonathan Yardley (The Washington Post) says it’s entertaining from first page to last. Steven E. Alford (The Houston Chronicle) says it brings an exotic world of sex and intrigue that is instantly recognizable as Furstland. Michael Lee calls Furst a master of setting. Clea Simon (Boston Phoenix) says Furst fans will recognize the small struggles of ordinary people as war clouds gather. Michael Kenney (The Boston Globe) says it conveys the sense of atmosphere. Alessandra Stanley (The New York Times) says it’s smarter and more soulful than most espionage novels. Mark Feeney (New York Observer) calls Furst’s novels suave, expert and very nearly weightless. Dan Cryer (San Francisco Chronicle) thinks a spark is missing. Jeff Lipshaw recommends it. Sandy Nawrot was disappointed that Warsaw’s essence wasn’t more developed. Jenny says Furst goes above and beyond the espionage genre. Liz Nichols offers a brief summary. Scott Timberg asks if any working novelist sketches atmosphere as well as Furst, and has a story about Furst’s awesome recall. Meghan liked it. Mark Johnson says Furst has a rare talent of allowing readers to experience his locations. Kenneth Crowe was unhappy with the ending. John League wishes it were longer. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says it hits a nice balance between familiarity and novelty. Michael Carlson says Furst recalls Eric Ambler. Here is an interview with Furst. Here is another with Beyond the Books. John Marshall interviewed him for The Daily Beast. Matt Poland interviewed him for Splice Today. Paul Constant interviewed him for The Stranger. Listen to Furst on KQED’s Forum. Or listen to this interview with Lewis FrumkesWatch Furst with Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show. Bookmarks links to many published reviewsThe New York Times uses the book as an entree to modern Warsaw, and Willard B. Moore enjoys the meal. CNN’s Kasla Ostrowski recommends it over your breakfast in Warsaw. And Furst picks five of his favorite spy novels.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Good bye Lenin!
Photo of the Berlin Wall by Gianni D. used under a Creative Commons license.

Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern (Vintage, 1999).
Accounts of the revolutionary events of 1989 from one who was there. Garton Ash, an English historian, lived and reported from Central Europe during the 1980s, and established relationships with activists in the nascent democracy movements behind the Iron Curtain. As events unfolded in 1989, he often was there. Written by neither a dispassionate witness nor a full participant, this is a collection of dispatches, not a comprehensive history. An afterword adds some hindsight.

Some excerpts are here, albeit in a .pdf file with some formatting issues. The author’s web site has this biography, among other things. Jan T. Gross reviewed it in The New York Times. Brian R. Hecht reviewed it in The Harvard Crimson. Lucy Despard wrote a brief review in Foreign Affairs. Here are posts from Misha Griffith and Meg. Here is a 1996 interview with Garton Ash. In this article, he revisited the revolutions of 1989 ten years later. And in this piece he looked back at his encounters with Vaclav Havel.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Photo of Warsaw by bartheq used under a Creative Commons license.

Benjamin Weiser, A Secret Life (PublicAffairs, 2004).
In August of 1972, a Polish colonel by the name of Ryszard Kuklinski contacted the U.S. embassy in Germany and arranged a secret meeting. Over the next several years, Kuklinski advanced within the Polish defense ministry, even as he continued to pass information to the West. In 1981, he relayed the government’s plans to crush the Solidarity movement, and then, fearful that he was in jeopardy, he and his family fled the country. Three years he was sentenced to death in absentia, but more recently he has been recognized as a Polish hero. The story of Kuklinski’s career as a spy is both a real-life espionage thriller and a glimpse of life behind the Iron Curtain.

This seems to be a review by Thomas M. Troy, Jr., formerly of the CIA, but it’s hard to tell where it came from. Here’s a review from Peter Gessner of the University of Buffalo. And more from Walter Jajko and Richard Pipes in Commentary. After Kuklinski died in 2004, Anne Applebaum wrote about Kuklinski’s patriotism in Newsweek. Blogger t.s. posted a review. J speculates about whether the book is misinformation in the name of espionage, but still recommends it.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.