“I write out loud,” explains Alan Furst, the master of historical espionage. “I find myself dry-mouthed after a couple of hours of writing. I am writing by the sound of the prose. No other way.”
And so his books, when well performed, do not just satisfy our need to be amused and informed—they delight the ear. Four of Furst’s most recent novels have been read at full length by the Golden-Voiced George Guidall. Two have won Earphones Awards.
“George Guidall did such a fantastic job. He really did. He would call me with questions about the pronunciation. He read the text. He liked the text. He was into the whole thing. And nothing equals that in terms of getting a good, strong product.”
Known both for the velocity of his plots and his exquisite research, Furst sets all his books in and around WWII. Many of his heroes and heroines fight and die without ever having enlisted or worn a military uniform.
The plot lines in successful novels often haul us willy-nilly past wooden characters speaking wooden dialogue on a bare wooden stage. Furst’s men and women are the full-blooded and contradictory players we all recognize from life, and the world they inhabit is lovingly re-created with every detail in place. “It was world war,” Furst says. “It involved millions—tens of millions—of people, and what you had at the end of 1945 were tens of millions of stories. It was a time filled with delusion and illusion both.
“In a funny way those delusions and illusions were what fed this whole thing. What gave it its energy. Its life came from people believing things. It never came from pragmatics. So you could be a hero, a villain, a fugitive, or a victim.
“I love audiobooks. Because my home on Long Island is two hours from Manhattan, I know many people who listen to audiobooks. So many people. And I think in part it has a little bit to do with the decline of popular radio. How many times can you listen to Crosby, Stills and Nash? How many times have I heard those songs?”
Furst is now at work on a book to be titled THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT . “It’s about an Italian émigré working in Paris for Reuters. The delusion in Italy was that Fascism was going to earn them a place in the world’s empire, and that Italy could find its great destiny through self-sacrifice and aggression.
“In Italy, there was a daily radio communiqué from the government that went on about fifteen minutes. An official radio communiqué. You had to stand up. I mean, think about it. That’s the kind of detail I absolutely seized on. If they were playing the radio at a café, you had to stand.”—Benjamin Cheever
JUN/ JUL 05 © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine
Photo © Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Audio