Alan Furst on ambiguity

Went to Coolidge Corner Theater last night in Brookline last evening to hear Alan Furst read from his latest novel, Spies of the Balkans. This reading from a book is a funny thing. It’s just a symbol, really. Author reads for 20 minutes or so, enough to give us a flavor of the book, but nothing more than that. (I already have the book and have read about half of it, so what he read was not news to me.) Then there’s Q & A, and that’s the good part. If you’ve read any of his books, and I’d guess there’s somewhere around a dozen by now, you realize that all of the books take place in a time period between 1933 and 1942. Someone asked him why nothing after 1942. And Mr. Furst responded that the Nazi defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad that was waged between July of 1942 and February of 1943 marked the beginning of the end of the German war offensive.

So for Mr. Furst that takes all the tension out of the situation for his characters. From 1939 through 1942 it seemed possible that the Germans might well occupy Europe for the next 1,000 years. Who knew what would happen? But the fact that the Germans might be there forever puts his characters in a much more ambiguous situation. What do they do? Do they run away? Give in? Do the fight? Carry on guerrilla warfare for the rest of their lives? If the Germans are going to be gone in two years, then these people just hang on. It’s a waiting game. And that’s not usually interesting.

Some lesson here? Be ambiguous? Maybe. Ambiguity creates interest because there’s no clear line to follow. Not linear. And we all know by now that linearity is so not interesting. And not just in WW II either.

Wikipedia account of Alan Furst.

Interview with Charlie Rose.

Spies of the Balkans at

4 responses to “Alan Furst on ambiguity

  1. I’ve always been curious as to the specific dates of Furst’s work. Nice piece.

  2. thanks, Cycleventoux. Always glad to be helpful. See you soon.

  3. Emptycomments

    I enjoy Furst’s work. Being a pedant, I’ll point out that the first in this group goes up to 1945

  4. Erik Hansen

    Thanks for the info. Was that his first book? Maybe he discovered in the writing of that one that he wasn’t as much interested in the time period after 1942. I don’t know, but appreciate you pointing that out.