ONLINE ONLY: Furst Principles
At a guess, Furst’s readers and the novelist himself share a belief that the people who stopped Hitler deserve imperishable glory—that they are, in the most morally compelling sense of the word, heroes. Brecht’s Galileo remarked that “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.” This is one great truth, but it elides others, and on the evidence of Furst’s commercial and aesthetic success, heroes of his sort are the people many of us want to read about.
Indeed, if so many of us did not wholeheartedly admire the heroes of the Second World War, there would probably be fewer books insisting that the Allied strategic bombing campaign was simple murder, or that Hiroshima must be paired with Auschwitz: passionate blasphemy requires at least the living memory of piety.
In any case, Furst’s heroes differ from one another in social and national circumstances: Mercier, a professional soldier and aristocrat, could not in these respects differ more from the Russian Jewish Bolshevik hero of Dark Star, or from the Bulgarian Communist peasant hero of Night Soldiers, published in 1988, and the first of the series. What they all have in common is the free choice to risk so much, made when it was by no means clear that Hitler could be stopped (Night Soldiers runs past VE Day, but Furst has never been very interested in the latter half of the war, and as his series has gone on, his interests have shifted to the years when the war has not yet broken out).