Sunday was another quiet day for me, but instead of playing Civilization all day again, I read instead. Again though, I was too sedentary for Anne’s taste. So, instead of accompanying her on her 19 mile bicycle ride in the Park Sunday afternoon, I finished my book and successfully held down the couch. It has been a bit jumpy as of late. I was reading or maybe more accurately rereading Alan Furst’s novel Red Gold. I had just finished rereading another Furst novel, The World at Night, when I picked up Red Gold again on Sunday morning. Maybe I read them out of order the first time, but this time, I realized that not only did both books center on the same character, Jean Casson, a French film producer, but that Red Gold picked up right where The World at Night ended.
Alan Furst writes novels that he describes as “near history”. All of his books are set in Europe between the years, 1933, the year Hitler came to power and 1945, the end of World War II. All of his works are well researched, with exquisite attention to period detail. Critics exclaim that his fiction is as close to the feel of Casablanca, as has been produce since the movie was made. Furst’s novels are chocked full with spies, intrigue, action and suspense, but unlike Ian Fleming’s James Bond or Robert Ludlum’s Jason Borne none of Furst’s characters are superhuman secret agents. Even John le Carré’ George Smiley is a professional, albeit a human one, compared to Furst’s cadre of amateurs.
The pictures used in this post were photographed in occupied Paris by Andre Zucca, a Frenchman who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Zucca used rare Agfacolor film supplied by the Germans to take these pictures. Many of his pictures also appeared in Nazi propaganda magazines during the war and painted a picture of Paris as both “animated and gay”. Zucca was arrested in 1944, after the liberation but was never prosecuted. He worked until his death under an assumed name as a wedding photographer. The pictures included with this post are just a few examples from a photographic show of Zucca work that appeared in Paris in 2008. This show created quite the uproar, culminating with the Mayor of Paris decreeing that a warning be made decrying the depiction of wartime Paris as such a sunny place.
In-between the Nazis and their deprivations, the Jews and their sufferings and the French and their fears, Furst always manages to insert a few sunny moments into his novels. These are the everyday moments that someone like Zucca could have captured and then exploited. Furst’s characters are everyday people who are just trying to live their lives as best that they can in terrible times. I guess what I liked most about Furst’s novels was that compared to a Bond, Borne or even a Smiley, his characters seem like real people, people that might have actually lived in Paris and not just some comic book stereotype.