Saturday, December 14, 2013

Brief Reflection: Alan Furst, MISSION TO PARIS

It was a pleasure at this year's Bouchercon (the biggest mystery fan conference nationally -- held close enough so Dave and I could attend!) to receive a special "complimentary copy" of Alan Furst's 2012 title, MISSION TO PARIS. Random House used this to prepare for his upcoming 2014 book, although they don't reveal its title ... just that, as Furst comments at the end of this handout, it's linked to the Spanish Civil War. Count me in. I want to know more about that, and reading one of Furst's moody espionage novels with such a delicate balance between great change in the world and small but vital change in human lives is my favorite way to learn "history" through immersion.

Having this softcover version meant I could take my copy of MISSION TO PARIS with me on my walks, and while on the road. (You can't do that with a treasured signed hardcover.) I enjoyed it a lot. Most of all, for me, Furst nailed the way an ordinary person caught at a world-shaking moment can choose to do the extraordinary. Here, actor Fredric Stahl, sent from Hollywood in September 1938 to make a film based in Paris, unexpectedly discovers that he is willing to make a sacrifice for his adopted nation, America, by carrying some messages that amount to spying.

But the human risk and cost are enormous. The quiet way in which Stahl falls into agreeing to take on such tasks contrasts with what will happen if he is caught -- and what will happen to his friends, one way or another.

My father was a teen in Europe in 1938, and I could picture him in almost every scene of the book. It moved me deeply.

The book's had some challenging reviews, particularly in terms of its very strange ending. I presume Furst intended it to feel uncomfortable in terms of an espionage novel's ending. Yet it is, in some ways, exactly what happened to my dad. Once again, I find the opportunity to learn about history through a novel -- this time, my family's roots.

Today has been a time for remembering the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, a year ago today. "Let us never forget" remains also the best response I know to World War II and its predecessor, the Great War, now known as World War I. Next year (almost here!) will be 100 years since that war began. A lot to remember, a lot to learn ... and we too have the chance to make small differences that may, in the long run, help to protect the people and values we care about. Deep thoughts for a gray winter afternoon; ah well, a good book sometimes will do that.

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