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Saturday, 29 March 2008

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Yeah, I can see how you'd be hooked.
I would, too.

Which reminds me I haven't looked into library site to see if I can reserve the writers you recommended.

Couldn't quite finish it last night but I was right, it is a corker!

I report: got my first Furst: Red gold.
The 2 paragraphs at the beginning are very Remarquesque(huh!) - I like it. So far.

Let me know what you think, please, I haven't read that one. It's a sequel to "The World at Night" with the same 'hero'. Here is a good site for all his books:

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/f/alan-furst/

Happy reading!

He's cheeky, that guy: he makes his hero read a novel by Remarque, somewhere towards the middle. As if it'd make me shut up!
I finished it last night; not because it was that good - I needed a distraction from my thoughts.

Main displeasure: "historical framing". Too much wikipedia-style lecturing on background information. And it's not that I don't appreciate his doing his homework, but the tone is of a H.S. historian teacher, who in the process never looses the view of himself "getting the kids interested in the subject".

Maybe he should have digged up a novel by Ilia Erenburg, called "The Storm" (I'm sure it was translated from Russian: it was an important war-and post-war propaganda novel, and the Party never economized on propaganda), to see how it should be done. I mean not the propaganda, of course, but the tone, the style, the quality of writing itself. Merely repeating the tricks of Remarque and the French of War-generation doesn't make hima good writer.

I'm disappointed.

Just in case you didn't read Erenburg: he comes to mind because his premise, in 3 or 4 novels of 20s-50's, is the same as in Red Gold: various Left factions caught by the War in Paris. Spain, France, Germany. "Sundown of Europe".

More">http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/eburg.htm">More on him here .

Incidentally, the article I linked has a translation of Erenburg' famous poem "Green eyes of Spring".
I had my own try at it, some time ago.

Sorry you were disappointed. As I said above, I haven't read that one. The others I liked mostly because of their sense of atmosphere. When I was younger I read quite a few books by ex-members of SOE (Special Operations Executive) who ran resistance networks in France during the war and it seemed to me that Furst had captured the run-down, seedy, decrepit life in France under occupation - to say nothing of the danger.

I read you link concerning Ehrenburg and I would need to know a great deal more about him before passing *final* judgement but it strikes me as odd that a man could spend so much of his life wedded to *Soviet* Russia under Stalin. His poem is excellent, even in translation, and you are right to suppose that he wasn't just referring to the climate. However, it does his reputation no good to admit that he could see "the green eyes of spring" but did very little himself to help his fellow Russians to see them!

Perhaps I have misjudged him, feel free to tell me where I am wrong.

("he should have digged up" = he should have dug up. Not a criticism, just a helping hand!)

Right, right, irregular verbs. Thanks.


Erenburg is an interesting character. In his sorta "middle of the road" outlook he's more like French (or Italian) leftist, than what was understood under that in Russia. In this he's similar to the main character in Furst' book. His first novel (Julio Jurenito) was much more controversial (and fresh, free and witty) than the later ones - it was written when he still dared to think for himself, living on his own in France (not on a Soviet salary, like in the 30's). The so called Thaw period in post-Stalin history got its name from the title of his novel - that's how famous he was. The later memoir (People, years, life) was considered incredibly brave when it appeared - on the general background of trained socialist-realists he was like a strange star, a remainder of freer times and western entitlement of independent opinion, (even if now, after 40 years, you wouldn't find it so daring). he was a rarity - a front, a facade for the regime. A familiar figure to show to the lefty intelligencia of the West, someone they could understand - not realizing how far removed from Soviet reality this "model writer" is.
His contradictions - as Stalin apologist during the War but the first big writer to describe inherent ugliness of the regime after the monster died - still keep opinion about him divided.


About "sense of atmosphere". That, I think, is the problem - the atmosphere doesn't seem to come firsthand. Ir reads like a paraphrase of Remarque, Sartre, Andre Jide (sp?) and Hemingway, and not particularly insightful one. He thinks that by mentioning periodic brands (like Jitan and H'umanite), and then sticking in badly rewritten Remarquesque lovemaking scenes, and adding back-stage explanatory voice of archival trivia he cooked up pretty good dish. In fact, it stinks - as would any food made of rotten ingredients.

Hmmn! I have my doubts about any man who condoned Stalin for as long as Ehrenburg apparently did, although I sympathise with his patriotism during WWII.

As to Furst's book, of course, the atmosphere *must* be second-hand because he never experienced it for himself. Nor did I but I still maintain that he makes a pretty good effort to get it right. Also, Tatyana, I think you may be judging his book by high literary standards. His books, like most of the others I recommend, are rightly called 'pulp fiction'. When you have read as much of this genre as me (mea culpa!) you will know just how bad they can be, and so Furst, with his original approach, rather takes my fancy. Sorry you didn't like it. Possibly (I haven't read this particular book) he has started to go off but I certainly admired his earlier ones, "The Polish Officer", "Dark Star", for example.

David, but you're forgetting what would have happened if he didn't condone Stalin. In the 30-40 decade - how many hundreds of thousands intellectuals vanished, from within Russia and abroad? To simply die became a worthy fate; so many were forced to false public confessions, to madness, to betrayal of their friends and family. People lead double lives - and those were the brave ones; one were afraid to even voice doubt to oneself, privately - the whole country was implicated in crimes, in some way or another.
Erenburg was standing up to pressure much better than most of the celebrated intellectuals. But then - he was never taken to Lubyanka; the pressure was never physical...

I'll try the two titles above.
Maybe you have recommendation of something of a "higher literary standard"?

Alas, Tatyana, my brow is so low I am not very knowledgeable concerning 'literature', although this might interest you:

"They Were Counted" by Miklos Banffy

It is the first of a trilogy telling the story of life in Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century as seen by two very different young men who happen to be cousins. I loved it because it opened my eyes to another world.

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