Paris, 1940. The civilized, upper-class life of film producer Jean Casson is derailed by the German occupation of Paris, but Casson learns that with enough money, compromise, and connections, one need not deny oneself the pleasures of Parisian life. Somewhere inside Casson, though, is a stubborn romantic streak. When he’s offered the chance to take part in an operation of the British secret service, this idealism gives him the courage to say yes. A simple mission, but it goes wrong, and Casson realizes he must gamble everything—his career, the woman he loves, life itself. Here is a brilliant re-creation of France—its spirit in the moment of defeat, its valor in the moment of rebirth.
Praise for The World at Night
“[The World at Night] earns a comparison with the serious entertainments of Graham Greene and John le Carré. . . . Gripping, beautifully detailed . . . an absorbing glimpse into the moral maze of espionage.”—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times
“[The World at Night] is the world of Eric Ambler, the pioneering British author of classic World War II espionage fiction. . . . The novel is full of keen dialogue and witty commentary . . . . Thrilling.”—Herbert Mitgang, Chicago Tribune
“With the authority of solid research and a true fascination for his material, Mr. Furst makes idealism, heroism, and sacrifice believable and real.”—David Walton, The Dallas Morning News
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Hometown:Sag Harbor, New York
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A., Oberlin College
Read an Excerpt
10 May, 1940
Long before dawn, Wehrmacht commando units came out of the forest on the Belgian border, overran the frontier posts, and killed the customs officers. Glider troops set the forest ablaze, black smoke rolling over the canals and the spring fields. On some roads the bridges were down, but German combat engineers brought up pontoon spans, and by first light the tanks and armored cars were moving again. Heading southwest, to force the river Meuse, to conquer France.
In Paris, the film producer Jean Casson was sleep. His assistant, Gabrielle Vico, tried to wake him up by touching his cheek. They'd shared a bottle of champagne, made love all night, then fallen dead asleep just before dawn. "Are you awake?" she whispered.
"No," he said.
"The radio." she put a hand on his arm in a way that meant there was something wrong.
What? The radio broken? Would she wake him up for that? It had been left on all night, now it buzzed, overheated. He could just barely hear the voice of the announcer. No, not an announcer. Perhaps an engineersomebody who happened to be at the station when news came in was reading it as best he could:
"The attack...from the Ardennes forest..."
A long silence.
"Into the Netherlands. And Belgium. By columns that reached back a hundred miles into Germany."
More silence. Casson could hear the teletype clattering away in the studio. He leaned close to the radio. The man reading the news tried to clear his throat discreetly. A paper rattled.
"Ah...the Foreign Ministry states the following..."
The teleprinter stopped. A moment of dead air. Then it started up again.
"It is the position of the government that that this agresssion is an intolerable violation of Belgian neutrality."
Gabriella and Casson stared at each other. They were hardly more than strangers. This was an office romance, something that had simmered and simmered, and then, one night. But the coming of the war turned out to be, somehow, intimate, like Christmas, and that was a surprise to both of them. Casson could see how pale she was. Would she cry? He really didn't know very much about her. Young, and slim, and Italianwell, Milanese. Long hair, long legs. What was shetwenty-six? Twenty-seven? He'd always though that she fitted into her life like a cat, never off balance. Now she'd been caught outhere it was war, and she was smelly and sticky, still half-drunk, with breath like a dragon.
"Okay?" He used le slang Americain.
She nodded that she was.
He put a hand on her neck. "You're like ice," he said.
He went looking for a cigarette, probing an empty packet of Gitanes on the night table. "I have some," she said, glad for something to do. She rolled off the bed and went into the living room. Merde, Casson said to himself. War was the last thing he needed. Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, then Poland. France had declard war, but it meant nothing. Germany and France couldn't fight again, they'd just done that ten million dead, no much else accomplished. It was simply not, everybody agreed, logique.
Reading Group Guide
1. If you asked Jean Casson to define the word honor, what would he say? Which, if any, of the following would be included: Loyalty to friends? Loyalty to country? Loyalty in love? Loyalty to self?
2. After his meeting with Simic, in which he is first offered the chance to work for British intelligence, Casson thinks to himself, "You think you know how the world works, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.". How would you say Casson's understanding of the world has changed by the novel's conclusion? Has he become one of the people who know how the world "really works"?
3. To what extent is Casson culpable for the death of his friend Langlade?
4. During the early years of the German Occupation of France, a common question, which Langlade poses to Casson, was this: "If your barber cuts hair under the Occupation, does that make him a collaborator?" How would you respond? What would you have done in similar circumstances?
5. Alan Furst has said that his books are written from the point of view of the nation where the story takes place. Describe the French point of view as it appears in The World at Night.
6. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe. What elements description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no firsthand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?
7. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels", and as "spy novels." He calls them "historical spy novels." Some critics have insisted that they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?
8. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in his books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? How do you know?
9. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the war in comfort? If not, why not?
10. How do the notions of good and evil work in The World at Night? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero? Describe Furst's use of realism in this regard.