Book Review: A Hero of France by Alan Furst

A Hero of France
by
Alan Furst

Rating:

If you’re looking for an excellent spy thriller, check out A Hero of France, published in 2016. It’s the first book by Alan Furst I’ve read, but he has written many. Furst is considered the master of historical spy novels and I can see why. In A Hero of France, a man known as Mathieu leads an important cell in the French Resistance. They are helping downed RAF pilots escape occupied France, so that the men can get back in the air and beat the Germans.

There’s nothing complicated about their goal. It’s both practical and patriotic. But no life can be more complex, and dangerous, than the secretive life of a Resistance leader. Set in Paris, in 1941, Mathieu has collected a group of loyal resisters, including an arms dealer/nightclub owner, a teenage girl who works as a bicycle messenger, a wealthy woman of the upper class, a Jewish teacher and a young female aristocrat. On another floor of the abandoned Saint-Yves hotel where Mathieu is based lives Joëlle, who has fallen in love with her mysterious neighbor.

This fast-paced story starts with one successful crossing and progresses into more complex arrangements involving an ace Polish pilot who needs to get back in the war. Mathieu must depend on instinct and nerve to make the right decisions about the contacts he makes. Some are ruthless and some can’t be trusted, including those who say they want to get in the game and a British connection with another agenda. Soon a German investigator is sent to their Paris office, charged with hunting down resisters.

Furst gives readers a good look at Paris during the German occupation, at a time before the United States entered the war. Curfews, blacked out windows, dangerous streets and more dangerous skies set the way of life for all Parisians.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical story. It’s a quick read and is both entertaining and educational and I recommend it to readers who like historical fiction and stories about spies and intrigue.

I look forward to reading more books by Alan Furst.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all the light we cannot see

All the Light We Cannot See
by
Anthony Doerr

Rating:

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this terrific book set during World War II in the walled coastal city of Saint Malo, France. It’s easy to understand why All the Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It’s a story full of great characters, important themes, and a plot that’s a wonderful mix of reality and fairytale.

Imagine being Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young blind girl in Paris, whose entire world revolves around her father, Daniel, a trusted locksmith at the city’s Museum of Natural History. He’s built her a miniature model of their neighborhood and is busy teaching her how to find her way. Meanwhile, the threat of German occupation is real, and the museum is rushing to pack up and send off its valuable exhibits and specimens, before they become German property. Among these priceless objects is the Sea of Flames diamond, a legendary stone of mesmerizing beauty, but thought to carry a curse. When Marie-Laure and her father flee France for Saint Malo, he’s carrying a gem, but is it the Sea of Flames or a decoy?

At the same time, Werner Pfennig is a young boy growing up in an orphanage in the coal mining town of Zollverein, Germany. Desperate for a way out of a life destined for the coal mines, Werner discovers a broken radio. He’s instantly fascinated and teaches himself how to fix and build radios. A genius understanding of the math behind transmitting and receiving signals earns him a glowing reputation, but his hopeful future takes a turn when he’s called to fix a radio for a German officer. The officer recruits Werner to be a member of an elite Hitler youth group and he’s sent away to a brutal camp.

Werner becomes an expert in radio transmission, but questions of morality weigh heavy on him, especially when he’s on missions to locate enemy transmissions. When her father has to leave, Marie-Laure feels helpless in her uncle’s house where it’s becoming more and more dangerous. Slowly, these characters develop and find a way to make a difference, but their futures carry sadness as well.

I won’t spoil the story for you, so I will stop here. This is the kind of book you study. It’s full of great quotes, wonderful ideas and serious moral questions. I’m sure I will be reading this again!

I have many favorite parts, and I’ll write about them tomorrow!

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