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Alan Furst Blends History and Intrigue in 'Spies'

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Alan Furst was inspired to start writing historical spy fiction while listening to a vintage recording of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Furst closed his eyes and says he was suddenly transported to a Parisian cafe on the eve of World War II. He could taste the soft burn of the cognac and smell the cigarettes, and somehow he knew everything about everyone in the room.

Furst's ability to transport the sensation of life during that ominous period of European history has propelled 10 highly acclaimed historical spy novels, as popular as they are meticulously researched. His latest one, The Spies of Warsaw, concerns shadowy dealings that helped ease Germany's invasion of Poland and France. Its multinational cast includes a dashing French intelligence officer, a hapless German engineer and a pragmatic Russian journalist for Pravda. All are buffeted by the forces of governments — and greed.

Furst has been compared to Graham Greene and John Le Carre, but his own favorite writers include Anthony Powell, Joseph Conrad and Stendhal. And even though his books are set in the 1930s and '40s, he says he wants them to be timeless, to feel as familiar to readers today as that smoky Parisian cafe was, for a life-changing moment, to him.

This reading of The Spies of Warsaw took place in June 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.
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