What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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The Polish Officer
by Allen Furst, and also
The End of the Affair
by Graham Greene

Field-Tested by Rosecrans Baldwin

in Bar Harbor, Maine

I went to my family’s house in Bar Harbor for a week in May to get some work done, meaning nine-hour days at the desk, a short run or swim afterwards, and then dinner by myself (usually a Subway sandwich from the gas station) and some beer or scotch. I had discovered Alan Furst months before, and had three of his novels left to read.

The Polish Officer is probably my favorite of Furst’s collection, but all of his books are good. Unfortunately, three can be finished in a week. Furst writes spy novels set in Europe in the years leading to World War II. His characters live on the periphery of the war, but they’re not uninvolved—minor spies, reporters, film producers. Rarely are the surrounding events the things you learned in history class; it’s more like page two news from the day, but extremely important in considering the path to war: small betrayals, the diplomats’ reports. His research and details are spectacular. If you read one and like it, you’ll want to read the rest very quickly.

Important note for newbies: read Night Soldiers before the rest, and don’t read Red Gold until you’ve read The World At Night.

The other book I brought to Maine was Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. I read it at night, in an Adirondack chair looking over the fire pit and the dark blueberry bushes in our backyard, and I read it during the day, on a beached dock at the Seal Harbor beach. I’ve read it so many times by now, and I take it slowly. There’s so much to enjoy at an easy pace.

It’s my favorite book, bar none. I read it probably once a year, and, I think, remarkably, I haven’t once identified with any character more than the others; Greene has a huge amount of sympathy for them all (and in some cases that’s not easy). I’ve never seen the movie, with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore, and I don’t intend to. The book’s just too important to me. And, as Greene’s work (though not really in this book) is a father to Furst’s novels, it makes for a great companion in packing along with The Polish Officer.

Sadly not many Americans seem to know much about Greene, even though Faulkner said of Affair, “One of the most true and moving novels of my time, in anybody’s language.”

Rosecrans Baldwin is a founding editor of The Morning News where he writes the Letters from Paris column. His stories have elsewhere appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Buy The Polish Officer,
buy The End of the Affair

Read the next Field Test by Rosecrans Baldwin