Picks and Pans Review: The Polish Officer
by Alan Furst
Poles have long harbored a resentment that their contributions—and suffering—during World War II are overlooked by the rest of the world. Furst taps this anger by tracing the exploits of one Alexander de Milja, a captain in the Polish army, in the early days of the war. De Milja seems to be a composite character based on all those Polish patriots who worked for the underground in Eastern and Western Europe. He rescues the Polish national treasury—some 22 tons of gold—by smuggling it (and several hundred people) into Rumania on a train. He spies on the Nazis in Warsaw. And he joins Russian partisans in hit-and-run guerrilla raids on troop and cargo trains.
The Polish Officer is saved from being a shallow documentary by the writing. Furst, a skillful researcher, doesn't inundate the reader with a ton of Tom Clancy technobabble. Instead he presents detail sparingly and accurately. He also has drawn a believable main character who is trying to cope with the loss of virtually everything he knows: his aging father, his institutionalized wife, his invaded country, the women he meets along the way. All he has to fall back on are patriotism and hope. "Someone always seems to survive," he says. "Perhaps it will be me." (Random House, $23)
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