Posted: June 14, 2013 in Historical, Italy, spy story

41pmSONWyyL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I read The Foreign Correspondent a few weeks ago, before I embarked on my International Dagger shortlist reading catch up, which has reached Death in Sardinia by Marco Vichi. 

Alan Furst’s story is set in Paris in the years just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It tells the story of Carlo Weisz, a journalist working for Reuters who was originally from Trieste. Trieste was an important port city of  Austria-Hungary until their defeat in the Great War, when it became part of Italy. Weisz has been in Spain reporting on the end of the Civil War, and the final battles fought by the Republican International Brigades including elements of the Garibaldi Brigade under  the charismatic anti-Fascist Italian Colonel “Ferrara”. General Franco’s Nationalists had received considerable military aid from the Fascist powers Italy and Germany while the democracies had maintained an arms embargo, which in effect ensured the defeat of the democratically elected Republican Government. The bombing of Guernica, immortalised by Pablo Picasso in his famous painting, was a precursor and practice run for later attacks on Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Coventry, Bristol, and all the rest.

Weisz becomes the leader of a group of Italian refugees from Mussolini’s regime, who are publishing Liberazione an anti-Fascist newspaper that is smuggled back into Italy. The former editor has been murdered by the agents of the OVRA. Furst gives his readers an explanation of the name that is more compelling than other books I have read that state that no one knew what the letters stood for during those years of terror.

Today we regard Mussolini as some kind of buffoon, but his regime was no joke for those who lived in Italy during those years.

OVRA- Organizzazione di Vigilanza e Repressione dell’Antifascismo; organisation for the vigilant repression of antifascism

But it is said that it comes from a memo from Mussolini that he wanted a police force that would be like a PIOVRA, a giant octopus with tentacles into every aspect of Italian life. The name PIOVRA was apparently mistyped as OVRA, and Mussolini liked the name so it stuck.  

Weisz travels to Prague to report on the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

Churchill’s famous retort to Neville Chamberlain after Munich is quoted by the author.

“You were given a choice between shame and war. You chose shame and you shall have war.” 

Weisz then goes to Berlin to cover the signing of the Pact of Steel by Hitler and the Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law. Winston Churchill once joked, in the hearing of his new son-in-law, band leader Vic Oliver, that Mussolini was his favourite dictator because he had his son-in-law executed. In Berlin Weisz resumes his affair with his beautiful married lover Christa von Schirren, a committed anti-Nazi. As a result Weisz is then persuaded by the British agent Edwin Brown to be the ghost writer for a propaganda book written by Colonel Ferrara, in exchange for getting Christa out of Germany, a country where people disappear into “nacht und nebel” the night and fog.

The Foreign Correspondent is a standard Alan Furst novel, a lot of spies, a little sex, an easy read with great pre-World War II atmosphere, fairly standard characters, a simple plot, but with an educational value that makes up for any weaknesses and the low key ending.

  1. kathy d. says:

    It sounds very good and I’m glad that the book is firmly on the side of the anti-fascist forces in Spain. The Spanish Civil War was a horror; so many thousands killed and tortured. Yet for awhile the Republic was free in many ways, even for women who’d been locked up in their kitchens.
    I just hate to read about what the fascists in Spain and then in Germany did to the intensely eager Spaniards who were sort of like the youth in Egypt’s Arab Spring two years ago, so intent on changes in the government, wanting freedoms so basic to us all.
    My family knew people who went off to fight in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, U.S. volunteers who went to fight for the Republicans. I knew two wonderful men who did that. They both lived into their 90s and were anti-war activists over here until their last days. One — and I mention him specifically — was a dentist. He was generous and kind, always a twinkle in his eye. We celebrated his 90th birthday years ago.
    So, if the book isn’t too graphic, I could read it — maybe.
    I’m determined to read The Collini Case no matter what.

  2. […] The Foreign Correspondent has been reviewed at The View From the Blue House and at Crime Scraps Review […]

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