This book has been on my TBR forever. I thought I was going to have to buy a copy off of Amazon because my library didn’t have it, but I was able to do an inter-library loan and snagged a copy. With the limited number of renewals for an ILL, I had to rush a bit to finish it over the weekend but I was up for the challenge! I powered through the last 3/4 of the book.
Night Soldiers by Alan Furst
Summary from Goodreads:
Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944.
This book started out rough. I was really struggling to get into it. I didn’t connect or sympathize with the main character until well over 100 pages in so I didn’t want to read it. Once I started to be engaged in his story, the book read really fast. I was glad to reach the end, which was moderately satisfying, but I can’t forget the slow start. The author writes beautiful work, he just needs to jump into the plot a bit faster.
The characters seemed a little unbelievable, but I think they have to in a spy novel about Russia. Khristo was able to do things and know things that most men couldn’t and wouldn’t. His friends were the same way and while they were fun to read about, it’s crazy to think that all of this could happen anywhere in the world.
Khristo was a great character. He was dynamic and he also seemed human because of his vices and emotions. He wasn’t perfect and when he let up, people got hurt. When he hid in France, it tormented him that people were fighting and he wasn’t a part of it. When he let himself fall in love, it’s used against him. I liked that he had flaws and I liked that he suffered for them.
I could relate most to Faye. Besides her being an American living in a foreign country, I related to they way she thought about things and felt about things. She was genuinely scared at what happened, but she put up a brave face, which is how I tend to react. She was sad to be leaving France, even though living there had been pure misery for her. I get nostalgic a lot as well. I related to her desire to help make things better, too. She genuinely cared and I appreciated that.
I liked the story of Bob Eidenbaugh best. I liked that he was genuinely suited to fill the role of Lucien and I thought the way he was snatched up to be a spy seemed really genuine. His story was fast paced and really picked up the story for me. I liked how Khristo tied in as well. I wanted to know a bit more about Bob but the story of their escape from the trap had my heart racing a little more than was safe right before bed. Maybe it’s best that it ended there.
The training at Arbat Street really bored me. I thought this part dragged and I wasn’t sure what I was learning about Khristo while I read it. I wanted some action and this build-up was too much. I would have cut a lot of it out.
Khristo had to suffer but it’s not clear what he’s suffering for. Besides being Bulgarian, he doesn’t seem to have any flaws or history that people hold against him. For some reason, his nationality is always brought up, like it’s a bad place to be from, yet when he returns, it seems like one of the most peaceful places he’s lived. Again, for some reason going to America is the end of his suffering. I’m not sure how that works, either, to be honest. I wish Khristo’s motivations had been better explained. He got wrapped up in something and there was no way out for him, but he kept pushing forward and it’s unclear why.
Writer’s Takeaway: The pacing in this novel slowed it down a lot. I think it’s important to start with something big and while the death of his brother was a big moment for Khristo, it didn’t start the action. The action didn’t start until he had already served in Spain. Until then, he was following orders blindly. I wish a large section had been cut and we got to Khristo running sooner.
A fun novel that started out slow. Three out of Five stars.
This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.
Until next time, write on.