The Agony Column

Interview with Alan Furst

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While Alan Furst’s current novel is ‘Midnight in Europe,’ at this point in his career, you can’t really talk about a single novel. Make no mistake. You can read ‘Midnight in Europe’ by itself, having never read anything else by the man, cold, and it will knock you out. It’s a superb novel. But Furst is working on a unique literary form, a multi-volume version of a story in the style of a huge Russian novel.

“..but it was as nothing compared to the noise of planes landing…”
—Alan Furst

In conversation about his latest, I definitely wanted to open it up, to explore how Furst builds this detailed world, novel by novel. He told me some very interesting secrets that took me back to my time as a child, reading the Compton’s Encyclopedia. In retrospect, it seems that the hardbound encyclopedia has much more worth than one might presume, as it captures the world in a moment. It may give you some valuable information about the world, to be sure, but is certain to offer invaluable and un-reproducible information about the moment.

We’ve lost that now. We erase our history as fast as we write it. We tell ourselves that we’re making it more accurate, but we’re losing the ineffable and difficult to re-create worldviews that inform our mistakes of the moment. There’s something very good to be said about the bias of the times, as it tells you how it feels to live in those times.

That’s what Furst does so well in his novels. He captures not just the action and the history, but the feel of the times. Anyone, no matter what it is you think you know or want to know, can learn from Alan Furst. Listening to him is like watching a master painter. Chances are your next napkin art will be improved by the proximity.

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