The World at Night (Jean Casson Series #1)

( 21 )

Overview

Paris, 1940. The civilized, upper-class life of film producer Jean Casson is derailed by the German occupation of Paris, but Casson learns that with enough money, compromise, and connections, one need not deny oneself the pleasures of Parisian life. Somewhere inside Casson, though, is a stubborn romantic streak. When he’s offered the chance to take part in an operation of the British secret service, this idealism gives him the courage to say yes. A simple mission, but it goes wrong, and Casson realizes he must ...

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Overview

Paris, 1940. The civilized, upper-class life of film producer Jean Casson is derailed by the German occupation of Paris, but Casson learns that with enough money, compromise, and connections, one need not deny oneself the pleasures of Parisian life. Somewhere inside Casson, though, is a stubborn romantic streak. When he’s offered the chance to take part in an operation of the British secret service, this idealism gives him the courage to say yes. A simple mission, but it goes wrong, and Casson realizes he must gamble everything—his career, the woman he loves, life itself. Here is a brilliant re-creation of France—its spirit in the moment of defeat, its valor in the moment of rebirth.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“First-rate research collaborates with first-rate imagination....Superb.”
—The Boston Globe

“[The World at Night] earns a comparison with the serious entertainments of Graham Greene and John le Carré....Gripping, beautifully detailed...an absorbing glimpse into the moral maze of espionage.”
—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

“[The World at Night] is the world of Eric Ambler, the pioneering British author of classic World War II espionage fiction....The novel is full of keen dialogue and witty commentary....[T]hrilling.”
—Herbert Mitgang, Chicago Tribune

“With the authority of solid research and a true fascination for his material, Mr. Furst makes idealism, heroism, and sacrifice believable and real.”
—David Walton, The Dallas Morning News

Booklist
With deft texturing and tight storytelling, Furst puts film producer Jean Casson into perilously exciting jams in German-occupied Paris. So complicated are Casson's problems, yet so clearly and cleverly constructed his extrications, that Furst never forces solutions, demonstrating that he wields that authentic literariness essential to the better espionage titles.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With uninspired plotting, Furst makes disappointing use of a vividly evoked wartime Paris in his latest WWII espionage novel (The Polish Officer; Dark Star; Night Soldiers). Hedonistic Parisian film producer Jean Casson thrives in Paris's active film industry, enjoying the colorful social scene, the posh restaurants and the beautiful, available women. But this world he knows so well all but disappears when Germans march into France and seize the city. At first, Casson strives merely to survive, but he's soon drawn into duty as an amateur intelligence operative and finds himself in a precarious position, buffeted by British Intelligence, resistance forces and the Gestapo. In the process, Casson discovers two powerful forces within himself-his patriotism and his consuming passion for an old lover, the beautiful actress Citrine. Furst brings this fascinating, historic Paris to life with his usual masterful use of period detail. But while Casson makes an intriguing protagonist, his relationships with other characters are presented rather schematically-in particular, his affair with Citrine, which ultimately proves so influential, is never satisfactorily developed. More importantly, Casson's career as a spy, marked by mixed success on missions that seem insignificant, is anticlimactic and a bit confusing. In the end, the novel never attains the dramatic pitch of Furst's recent The Polish Officer. (June)
Library Journal
Jean-Claude Casson lives a hedonistic Paris existence as a low-budget film producer until the Germans invade France in 1940. Casson's need to continue working almost leads him into collaborating with the enemy. He is saved, temporarily, by the intervention of a group he thinks is British intelligence. He decides to work for the French Resistance only to have the Gestapo try to coerce him into betraying them. Furst, who has written several other World War II espionage tales, masterfully conveys a sense of daily life in occupied Paris, where even finding a newspaper was an ordeal. While the atmosphere is strong, Furst's storytelling skills are weak, shifting uneasily among the novel's many strands without always making the connections necessary for following the convoluted, often arbitrary, developments. The author also spends too much time on the producer's complicated love life, though he paints a vivid picture of the casualness of sexual relations in wartime. Stephen Thorne reads with a genteel English accent when a more earthy narration is called for. Recommended only for collections where Furst's works are popular.--Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Library Journal
While working undercover for the British in Paris during the German occupation, film producer Jean Casson finds that he has become an unwitting accomplice in a plot to rob the British Secret Service of a great deal of money. The British pressure him to work for them to prove his trustworthiness; the Germans turn him into a double agent. A friend laments: "We're toys to them, Casson-if we don't sing and dance, we're broken." Casson drifts without hiding place in a world of exceedingly nasty actors, his only anchor his love affair with an aging actress. "We all thought...life would go on," muses a colleague of Casson, "But it won't." A novel of mood as much as action, this is worth reading. Recommended for public libraries.-David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus
Kirkus Reviews
The throes of masculine existential torment are an unquestionable specialty for Furst (The Polish Officer, 1995), whose WW II fiction combines so much broad historical erudition with such genuine humanity that they ought to be made required reading.

Once again, Furst loads the entire burden of an aspect of the war on the shoulders of a single character, then scrutinizes that character as he changes. It's the old rat-in-the-maze game, played for very high stakes. Jean Casson, at the outset, is a slightly libertine, slightly dissolute, slightly bankrupt film producer with several moderately successful but unremarkable movies under his belt. Above all else, Casson is French, and above being French, he's Parisian. Though his tastes may be definitively bourgeois, his heart is restless, a condition typified by his extremely Gallic womanizing. On the verge of developing his first real hit—a project called Hotel Dorado—his life is shattered by the Nazi drive through Belgium and into Paris. Inhabiting an occupied city filled with repulsive Germans and ready collaborators, Casson's long-brewing crisis of purpose gets him embroiled in an elaborate double-cross that involves the British Secret Service, furtive trips to Spain and to the French countryside, and a host of shadowy minor characters, each perfectly captured in Furst's lacerating prose. A terrified, reluctant spy, Casson survives mainly on panache and dumb luck. There's plenty of sex amid the rubble of a wrecked Continent, but Casson's heart truly belongs to Citrine, the beautiful young actress who's set to star in Hotel Dorado. At times, the author seems more concerned with atmosphere than action, but fans will recognize his gift for making every gesture an expression of character and allow him to get away with it. The payoff is worth the wait.

Furst has somehow discovered the perfect venue for uniting the European literary tragedy with the Anglo-American spy thriller. Nobody does it better.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375758584
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/8/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 200,006
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Furst

Often compared to Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, Alan Furst is a master of the spy thriller and one of the great war novelists of our time. He is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, and The World at Night. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.

Biography

Alan Furst may have the narrowest purview in literature. His books – which he calls historical espionage novels -- are all set in Europe between 1933 and 1945, and all are stories of World War II intrigue.

But that brief eight-year period in history has given Furst a rich amount of source material; although he had published a handful of earlier novels (now out of print, some of them fetch hundreds of dollars) Furst hit his stride with 1988’s Night Soldiers , his first book to concentrate on the decade that would forever change the world. Furst had found his niche. As Salon rhapsodized in a 2001 review, "...to talk about one of his books is to talk about them all. He is writing one large book in which each new entry adds a piece to the mosaic of Europe in the years leading up to the war, as created by a partisan of the senses."

Furst's books are grounded in their author’s extensive research of the period, and are written in an almost newsy prose broken occasionally by beautiful, lyrical passages describing, say, a Paris morning in the 1940s, or night at the Czechoslavakian-Hungarian border. History buffs will find much to love here; while the books are fiction, some of the details are factual. In Night Soldiers, for example, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island exchanged their clothing for new outfits; in reality, the American government often bought clothing from immigrants to use as costumes for its spies.

And while Furst’s novels are entertaining and, often, elegant, they are not easy reads: the books traverse through a wide swath of Europe (an important character itself in Furst’s fiction), and characters duck behind corners and sometimes stumble into the continent’s more remote regions (while not partying in Paris, that is). Though his male protagonists manage to find and sometimes lose lovers, Furst’s books are primarily concerned with the moral slipperiness involved in fighting off Hitler's advance, where even the best intentions could produce regrettable results.

Furst's books have grown leaner and tauter over the years, the result of a conscious effort "to say more by saying less." Notwithstanding this paring back, or perhaps because of it, the praise for his books only seems to multiply, and Furst’s writing has lost none of its veracity or suspense. Furst, who many critics consider literature’s best-kept secret, may not be a household name yet, but with such buzz, his low profile won’t last much longer.

Good To Know

Night Soldiers originated from a piece Furst wrote for Esquire in 1983. He was also a reporter for the International Herald Tribune and wrote a biography of cookie entrepeneur Debbie Fields.

Furst wrote in a 2002 essay, "For me, Anthony Powell is a religion. I read A Dance to the Music of Time every few years."

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    1. Hometown:
      Sag Harbor, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Oberlin College

Read an Excerpt

10 May, 1940

Long before dawn, Wehrmacht commando units came out of the forest on the Belgian border, overran the frontier posts, and killed the customs officers. Glider troops set the forest ablaze, black smoke rolling over the canals and the spring fields. On some roads the bridges were down, but German combat engineers brought up pontoon spans, and by first light the tanks and armored cars were moving again. Heading southwest, to force the river Meuse, to conquer France.

In Paris, the film producer Jean Casson was sleep. His assistant, Gabrielle Vico, tried to wake him up by touching his cheek. They'd shared a bottle of champagne, made love all night, then fallen dead asleep just before dawn. "Are you awake?" she whispered.

"No," he said.

"The radio." she put a hand on his arm in a way that meant there was something wrong.

What? The radio broken? Would she wake him up for that? It had been left on all night, now it buzzed, overheated. He could just barely hear the voice of the announcer. No, not an announcer. Perhaps an engineer—somebody who happened to be at the station when news came in was reading it as best he could:

"The attack...from the Ardennes forest..."

A long silence.

"Into the Netherlands. And Belgium. By columns that reached back a hundred miles into Germany."

More silence. Casson could hear the teletype clattering away in the studio. He leaned close to the radio. The man reading the news tried to clear his throat discreetly. A paper rattled.

"Ah...the Foreign Ministry states the following..."

The teleprinter stopped. A moment of dead air. Then it started up again.

"It is the position of the government that that this agresssion is an intolerable violation of Belgian neutrality."

Gabriella and Casson stared at each other. They were hardly more than strangers. This was an office romance, something that had simmered and simmered, and then, one night. But the coming of the war turned out to be, somehow, intimate, like Christmas, and that was a surprise to both of them. Casson could see how pale she was. Would she cry? He really didn't know very much about her. Young, and slim, and Italian—well, Milanese. Long hair, long legs. What was she—twenty-six? Twenty-seven? He'd always though that she fitted into her life like a cat, never off balance. Now she'd been caught out—here it was war, and she was smelly and sticky, still half-drunk, with breath like a dragon.

"Okay?" He used le slang Americain.

She nodded that she was.

He put a hand on her neck. "You're like ice," he said.

"I'm scared."

He went looking for a cigarette, probing an empty packet of Gitanes on the night table. "I have some," she said, glad for something to do. She rolled off the bed and went into the living room. Merde, Casson said to himself. War was the last thing he needed. Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, then Poland. France had declard war, but it meant nothing. Germany and France couldn't fight again, they'd just done that— ten million dead, no much else accomplished. It was simply not, everybody agreed, logique.

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Foreword

1. If you asked Jean Casson to define the word honor, what would he say? Which, if any, of the following would be included: Loyalty to friends? Loyalty to country? Loyalty in love? Loyalty to self?

2. After his meeting with Simic, in which he is first offered the chance to work for British intelligence, Casson thinks to himself, "You think you know how the world works, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.". How would you say Casson's understanding of the world has changed by the novel's conclusion? Has he become one of the people who know how the world "really works"?

3. To what extent is Casson culpable for the death of his friend Langlade?

4. During the early years of the German Occupation of France, a common question, which Langlade poses to Casson, was this: "If your barber cuts hair under the Occupation, does that make him a collaborator?" How would you respond? What would you have done in similar circumstances?

5. Alan Furst has said that his books are written from the point of view of the nation where the story takes place. Describe the French point of view as it appears in The World at Night.

6. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe. What elements description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no firsthand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?

7. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels", and as "spy novels." He calls them "historical spy novels."Some critics have insisted that they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?

8. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in his books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? How do you know?

9. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the war in comfort? If not, why not?

10. How do the notions of good and evil work in The World at Night? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero? Describe Furst's use of realism in this regard.

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Reading Group Guide

1. If you asked Jean Casson to define the word honor, what would he say? Which, if any, of the following would be included: Loyalty to friends? Loyalty to country? Loyalty in love? Loyalty to self?

2. After his meeting with Simic, in which he is first offered the chance to work for British intelligence, Casson thinks to himself, "You think you know how the world works, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.". How would you say Casson's understanding of the world has changed by the novel's conclusion? Has he become one of the people who know how the world "really works"?

3. To what extent is Casson culpable for the death of his friend Langlade?

4. During the early years of the German Occupation of France, a common question, which Langlade poses to Casson, was this: "If your barber cuts hair under the Occupation, does that make him a collaborator?" How would you respond? What would you have done in similar circumstances?

5. Alan Furst has said that his books are written from the point of view of the nation where the story takes place. Describe the French point of view as it appears in The World at Night.

6. Critics praise Furst's ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe. What elements description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no firsthand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?

7. Furst's novels have been described as "historical novels", and as "spy novels." He calls them "historical spy novels." Some critics have insisted that they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you've read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?

8. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as "sketched out in a few strokes." Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in his books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? How do you know?

9. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst's heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the war in comfort? If not, why not?

10. How do the notions of good and evil work in The World at Night? Would you prefer a confrontation between villian and hero? Describe Furst's use of realism in this regard.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 30, 2010

    Enthralling

    This is the forth of Furst's novels that I've read, and the best of them. Has a little bit of everything. I was stuck on the couch nursing a sore back, and I couldn' t have asked for a better companion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An Excellent WWII Thriller from Furst

    Alan Furst's World War II espionage novels can sometimes read nothing like novels about spies. Instead they'll tell of a postcard from a lost friend, signed with an impersonal, intimate X. They'll contemplate the slow rolling of cigarettes at a Paris café, an untapped telephone under the bar, and former lovers pretending a kiss in order to escape unwanted attention. Jean-Claude Casson, hero of "The World at Night," is no James Bond, so when he is unlucky, we feel it sharply; when he loses, we lose at his side; and should Jean-Claude happen to find an occasional, small success, we understand how one can survive a war, and escape with dignity. Furst writes of passion and sacrifice and moments decided upon or missed with such sincerity that you might think all the world depended on the actions of a few unimportant men. As if that were possible. As if it didn't already occur. (Also posted at Gooreads.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    Terrible

    Worst book I ever read not worth the money I paid for it would not recommend it

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2013

    Disappointing

    I like Spies in the Balkans this was not so good
    Poor character development the story was not there
    I did like the Paris backdrop and the desriptions of the food and libations

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2012

    Exceptional

    Wonderful characters, spare prose, great settings... do not miss this one.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Smooth reading.

    Alan Furst gets first prize from me for his writing in this genre. Another page turner. Bookworm1FG

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