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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Alan Furst's ongoing obsession with the 20th Century's most traumatic decade -- the decade that began in 1933 with Hitler's rise to power and ended in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany -- surfaces once again in Red Gold, a gritty, grimly authentic account of several months in the early history of the fragmented French Resistance movement.
Red Gold opens in September 1941, a particularly dark moment in the progress of the war. France has been overrun and occupied by German troops, and a collaborationist government under Marshall Petain has been established in Vichy. Jewish citizens are being rounded up and "deported." German divisions are advancing steadily in both Russia and Africa, and America is still some months away from becoming actively involved in the war. Against this backdrop of encroaching chaos, Furst gives us the story of a very believable hero named Jean Casson, a former producer of low-budget gangster films who, like his country, has fallen on hard times and who gradually reinvents himself through his escalating involvement in the activities of the Resistance.
Casson, hero of an earlier Furst novel, The World at Night, is living a hand-to-mouth existence in the poorer quarters of Paris when a former army associate invites him to join an underground intelligence movement aimed at strengthening and coordinating the scattered, largely ineffectual branches of the Resistance. His first assignment: to make contact with the elusive militant arm of the French Communist Party -- the only trained, organized, genuinely effective guerrilla force currently active in France -- and to enlist their aid in a proposed series of joint assaults against the army of occupation.
Most of the novel concerns Casson's attempts to forge an alliance with the Communist underground by supplying them with a much needed cache of high-grade automatic weapons. In telling this story, Furst skillfully integrates a number of interconnected narratives. The primary narrative concerns Jean Casson and focuses on his day-to-day struggle to survive, his ill-fated love affair with a Jewish woman desperate to escape from France, and his gradual education in the realities of Resistance fighting. The secondary narratives offer the reader a quick tour of those same realities through a series of brief, pointed vignettes that cumulatively illustrate the brutal, expedient nature of life in the shadow world of the Resistance.
Ultimately, Red Gold is many things -- many types of novel -- all at once: a love story, an account of the growth and development of an individual soul, and a meticulous rendering of a time when paradoxical alliances, alliances which would have been unthinkable just a few years before, were formed in response to the common threat posed by National Socialism. More than anything, though, Red Gold is a triumph of ambiance, a book that recreates, with great particularity, the feeling and texture of daily life in occupied Paris in the early years of the war. Furst gives us, with the ease and confidence of deep familiarity, the bars and bistros of the poor, with their atmosphere of forced gaiety and latent violence; the offices of the Gestapo and the safe houses of the Resistance; the crowded pawnshops where desperate people bargain away the last of their possessions for enough money to get drunk, feed their families, or meet the rent on their decrepit rooming houses and cheap hotels.
Red Gold ends, not with a sense of closure but with the sense that a long, dangerous struggle that will claim the lives of countless French patriots has barely gotten underway. Furst, who has now written five novels set against this same historical backdrop, has carved a rather unique niche for himself among contemporary writers of historical suspense. It's heartening to think that he will very likely revisit this period in subsequent volumes, giving us further glimpses into the way life must have felt -- and the way the world must really have looked -- to people caught up, against their wishes, in the bleakest moments of the century. (Bill Sheehan)