Dark star

by Alan Furst

Paperback, 2002




New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002.


André Szara, survivor of the Polish pogroms and the Russian civil wars and a foreign correspondent for Pravda, is co-opted by the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service to become a full-time spymaster in Paris. As deputy director of a Paris network, Szara finds his own star rising when he recruits an agent in Berlin who can supply crucial information.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Ann_Louise
Furst is one of the best at creating the atmosphere of place, the era as seen by people at the time. I've been lucky enough to visit Paris, and he nails it - almost like being there.
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
My first Furst was a success overall, however I don’t know how many more of them I will read. What? How can that be if I say it was a success? Well, it was more the feeling of the inevitable and the futility of it all that I had while reading. 70 years after World War II it’s tough to really suspend one’s disbelief during a spy story and pretend we don’t know how things turned out. Even though Szara was thoroughly engaging and human, fought on the ‘right’ side of things and went about his task with a grim instinct for his role, I still felt pangs of ‘what is it all for?’.

As a protagonist, Szara was great. His little side jobs for the NKVD became much more than he bargained for, but he handled it with expertise he didn’t know he had. He’s vaguely romantic in the sense that he has fought in wars and is a widower due to those same wars (the fact that his wife was a nurse makes it even more romantic). He’s got a good head on his shoulders and keeps his cool under fire. He’s not idealistic; he’s trying to do the best he can in a situation he can’t control. He’s shrewd but not cruelly manipulative. A good guy in a bad circumstance is the overall impression and I was glad how things ended for him even if it was so different from how most other espionage novels end.

I also liked how the overall plot wasn’t some gigantic, war-changing operation that was so vitally important as to make all other considerations meaningless. Instead it was a very localized operation moved along by relatively junior personnel. Maybe that’s what lent the feeling of futility to the story. This minor sideline wasn’t going to change anything and so the sense of time wasted, lives wasted was pretty strong for me. After all the plotting, betrayal and bloodshed the information was really not as hard to come by as Szara thought and so what good did it all do? That’s the feeling of futility and doom that pervaded for me throughout, but especially at the end when I got a horrible deflated feeling.

I did like the small sphere Furst gave us though. Through his descriptions of bombings, life as a refugee and as ‘burnt’ spy desperate for a new identity and way to safety, I really felt how trapped and hopeless it was for those people caught by it. It was very quotidian and not over the top and thus much more believable. I could easily imagine people going through with and attempting similar things to Szara. Small cogs just trying to get by. It was touching and somehow familiar although I wonder if they still make people who could do what these did. The absolute audacity of the German regime and the utter passivity of the rest of Europe (well, that’s how it came across in this novel anyway) was pretty shocking. I mean, I understand wanting to keep out of someone else’s fight, but what the hell did they think was happening to these people as they were marginalized, shut out and shipped from one place to another? Unthinkable, but it happened.
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LibraryThing member majkia
Second in Furst’s Night Soldier series follows a Soviet Jew newspaper man through the rise of Hitler, and the beginning of WWII. At first a spy for the Russians based in Germany when war begins his world is turned inside out and he flees through Europe.

I love how Furst shows what little control people in those circumstances have over their lives. At the mercy of powerful elements shoving them and forcing them this way and that.

A terrific series with insights into the mood, realpolitik and underside of the run up to war.
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LibraryThing member wildbill
I thought this was a very good book. It is a spy novel set in the years 1937-1941 in Europe. It is similar to some books by Eric Ambler where a novice is thrust into the world of espionage. The protagonist, Andre Szara, is a writer for Pravda who through circumstance becomes an agent of the Russian foreign intelligence service. His Jewish background figures prominently in the story because that fact was significant in all of Europe in that era.
Szara is always at the center of the plot. He becomes involved in separate ongoing plot lines as a journalist, a Russian spy, a British spy, a Zionist agent and a lover fighting an on and off battle for personal survival. The author fashions the characters with great subtlety. They all move in a world where the truth is not obvious and what is obvious is not the truth. Even Szara does not always share his thoughts with the reader until necessary.
Szara's two love affairs are portrayed with tenderness and poignancy. Szara shows a belief in love as the true goodness in life. He falls in love quickly and fully and this provides for Szara and the reader a respite from the quietly vicious actions that make up the majority of the interplay between the characters in the book.
The historical background of the book cuts a wide swath through the events of the period. Szara runs from Nazi bullies on Kristallnacht and travels with a Polish officer during the invasion of Poland. He reads a dossier of the early career of Stalin as a double agent of the Czar's secret service. These events add to the drama and emotional intensity of the book.
I would recommend this book as a well told adventure in an interesting historical era. The variety of characters and the significance of the events portrayed add to the enjoyment. I have one other book by this author and plan to read it soon.
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LibraryThing member viking2917
One of Furst's earliest books and one of his best, I think. Much longer than most of his books, and a bit uneven near the end, but atmospheric to the core. Szara is a Pravda journalist stumbling on a secret history, and wandering Paris and Eastern Europe, in danger from all sides - Russia, German, and France.
LibraryThing member neurodrew
Dark Star
Alan Furst
May 2, 2010 8:10 PM

An on the plane novel for the trip to lecture in Toronto, finished compulsively in a long session on a Sunday afternoon. The hero, Andre Szara, is a Soviet journalist; the setting is Europe in 1938 and 1939. He is, naturally, Jewish, a survivor of Polish progroms and a fighter in the Russo-Polish war and World War 1. He initially only does an occasional task for the NKVD, but discovers some embarrassing evidence that Stalin was an agent for the Czarist secret police, and finds a connection to industry in Nazi Germany, and is absorbed into the apparat as a spymaster. Through contacts with Jewish financiers in France, and with an agent in the German foreign office service, he survives, acquiring a mistress and lover. The story moves well but there is one plot device that makes no sense - there is no internal logic for Szara to be in the Polish countryside when war starts. The characters are believable, the logic of the spy world is fascinating.… (more)
LibraryThing member BrianDewey
This was a difficult book to read, especially the first part (with all of the Russian names and Russian history that I don't really know). But it really evokes the world of a WWII spy, with all of its grit. The combination of the book's atmosphere and its implicit history lesson makes a worthwhile read.
LibraryThing member BillPilgrim
Historical fiction. Espionage set right before and after the start of WW II. Soviet journalist Andre Szara, is recruited by the NKVD, their secret intelligence agency, to spy on Germany. He is based in Paris. He is Jewish. He is in charge of a German Jew who owns a steel wire (swage) manufacturing company, whose product is used to make airplanes for the Luftwaffe, and using his production numbers, they can figure out how many planes are being built. There is a lot going on in this book. Stalin's purges are still going on at the beginning. There is a group of Georgians who are coming to power, who were in cahoots with the Tzar's people before the Revolution. Szara comes into possession of proof of this, and another faction in Russian intelligence want him to expose them.… (more)
LibraryThing member nycbookgirl
The story takes place pre-World War II, in 1937. Andre Szara is a Polish-born journalist working for the Russian newspaper Pravda. While just doing his job, he gets coerced into working with the NKVD (Soviet secret intelligence). Setting up base in Paris, Szara becomes pretty much a spy for Russia. He travels across Europe as a spy and a journalist, enlisting the help of an agent in Berlin with whom he develops romantic connections.

Ok. So a spy novel. But Furst knows his history...sometimes a little too much. But I loved the cloak and dagger feel of the book and the time period was just crazy. I can't imagine traipsing around Europe right before WWII.

I'm going to definitely check out his other books.
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LibraryThing member adamtyoung
Poorly written and confusing. Furst tells you that a character is "the type of man who ..." instead of showing character. Lots of historical detail, but poorly presented - reader must sit with wikipedia to figure out what half of the references mean.
LibraryThing member annbury
I found this book compelling and involving, but so futile, depressing and sad that I couldn't finish it. This is my problem, not the writer's. It is tempting to say that my problem with the book is related to the fact that the reader knows how terribly everything will turn out, but lots of other readers seem to deal with that very comfortably.… (more)
LibraryThing member ZachMontana
The first part was very hard to get into - 87 pages of multitudes of characters and organizations which were hard to keep track of or decipher. Second part started with an org chart of the spy network and it became easier to understand what was going on. Very dense book, but I kept with it and it was worth the read, though not something I felt excited to read so it took me many weeks while reading other things. I think it is a pretty good representation of life in these places as an intelligence operative in the 1937-41 timeframe.… (more)
LibraryThing member michael.confoy.tamu
One of Furst's best books.
LibraryThing member ShellyS
During the late-1930s, Andre Szara, a Polish Jew from Russia, is a Pravda journalist who has been co-opted to spy for the Soviet NKVD intelligence service. As a journalist, he can travel most anywhere in Europe without suspicion, making it easy for him to meet with couriers and run a network of agents. His work takes him to Berlin, Paris, even Poland during the German invasion. As with typical Furst protagonists, Szara is an ordinary man who rises to the occasion and manages to do extraordinary things, not the least of which, with some luck, is surviving. There are complications -- there are always complications -- and a lot of politics mixed in with the history, and enough theorizing to have me ready to pull out some history books to see how much is authorial speculation and how much of the secret machinations really happened.

Furst is one of the best when it comes to recreating the past and putting the reader right there in time and place. The book also typically is episodic, which made it too easy to put down. His books are not pageturners for me, but they are compelling, and his characters always get under my skin. Szara became a character I cared for very much.
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
Dark Star by Alan Furst; (4*)

In this Furst novel our hero / anti-hero Szara, a Polish Jew is a Russian journalist who is coerced into the spy game.

Not quite as good as the first of this series but still excellent. Reading Furst's books the WWII espionage is giving me some much needed background in areas of the war in which I had not really given much thought. I have read several of the Manning Coles novels on spy / espionage during the war but they are not nearly as intricate of the Furst novels, though lighter reading.
I will admit that thus far I am struggling through this series. Furst writes of so many people, places, introducing the reader to fresh views of war time activity, duplicity and leaderships that even striving hard to concentrate on his excellent writing, this reader finds she must work to keep her head in the work.
We have a new hero / antihero in this second book but there are a few name droppings of characters and locales from the first.
I am intrigued!
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LibraryThing member AHS-Wolfy
The 2nd in the (non-)series of espionage novels set just prior to and after the commencement of WWII. André Szara is a foreign correspondent working for Pravda. Like all such travellers he has been asked to perform small services for the NKVD and is once again tasked with one such on his trip to Ostend to write a story on the Belgian dockworkers. He's asked to find out where a fellow passenger is staying which he does but then finds this task escalating into something more and is actually recruited into the Russian spy network itself. His first assignment sees him running an agent in Berlin who is providing production figures which enables the estimation of how many aircraft Germany are churning out in preparation for the obviously upcoming war.

This is a very atmospheric and evocative read. Szara is a masterful creation as someone who is plunged into an incredibly difficult situation but manages to survive working for his two masters when one misstep would result in his demise. While there are a few contrivances which see the reluctant spy being placed in a position to witness critical events in the unfolding drama, the plot is tight and focused. While the reader is aware of the bigger picture, the story remains centred on the protagonist throughout. The only thing that stops this from being a five star read is the ending, it's just a little too pat.
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LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Andre Szara's adventures as spy/journalist through pre-war Europe is an absorbing read. The details of sight, sound, smell and fury of the era are brought out as he moves through the mazes of this time. I am looking forward to the next Furst thriller.



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