The Polish Officer


Alan Furst


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

September 20, 2013

his is a tremendous book; it certainly deserves all the high praise that is lavished upon it. It is the story of Captain Alexander de Milja, who is a member of the Polish army in 1939. The German army has just launched its invasion of Poland, and everyone knows that the Polish resistance is futile. Nonetheless, they fight. Milja is a fatalist, he knows Poland is doomed, but he is determined to hurt the Germans as best he can before he perishes. Milja's commanding officer pulls him aside and gives him new orders: Milja must find away to smuggle the gold reserves from the Polish gov't out of the country without letting them falling into the invaders hands. How do you move tons of gold?

The gold smuggling is the first of several undercover missions that Milja undertakes for the (soon-to-be) defunct Polish government. The gold is loaded onto a train, and then the train is filled with desperate refugees, all piling onto the last train out of Warsaw. Those who don't get on the train know that they will be left to the merciless German rule. The train pulls out, hoping to reach the southern border, dodging German dive bombers, bandits and militias, blown bridges and damaged tracks. It is a harrowing mission.

Milja subsequently gets assigned to other resistance schemes. He is sent to Paris to act as a spy. He returns to Warsaw to work with the underground. He parachutes into the eastern front to help the ruthless militias wage guerilla warfare. You could make a TV mini-series out of Milja exploits. Always there is danger from the Gestapo and the army. Will Milja be recognized? Will his false papers fail? Who will betray him to the Germans? You can never really trust any one, and must be willing to flee at a moments notice. It is always dangerous, if you relax you will perish.

What impressed me most about this novel is the sense of authenticity in the writing. This story seems so realistic that it almost read like a documentary of a war hero. I don't know if any of the deeds of Milja in this novel are based upon true-events, but reading Furst's book was quite convincing to me. The violence of the war, the suffering and futility, the fact that everyone dies eventually - you can only beat the odds for so long. Furst paints a dramatic description of the resistance to the Germans. This novel really impressed me.