Summary and book reviews of Blood of Victory by Alan Furst

Blood of Victory

by Alan Furst

Blood of Victory
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2002, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2003, 288 pages

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Book Summary

November 1940, and the battle to cut Germany's oil supply rages through the spy haunts of the Balkans amid the street fighting of a fascist civil war. This is classic Alan Furst, combining remarkable authenticity and atmosphere with the complexity and excitement of an outstanding spy thriller.

"In 1939, as the armies of Europe mobilized for war, the British secret services undertook operations to impede the exportation of Roumanian oil to Germany. They failed.

Then, in the autumn of 1940, they tried again."


So begins Blood of Victory, a novel rich with suspense, historical insight, and the powerful narrative immediacy we have come to expect from bestselling author Alan Furst. The book takes its title from a speech given by a French senator at a conference on petroleum in 1918: "Oil," he said, "the blood of the earth, has become, in time of war, the blood of victory."

November 1940. The Russian writer I. A. Serebin arrives in Istanbul by Black Sea freighter. Although he travels on behalf of an émigré organization based in Paris, he is in flight from a dying and corrupt Europe—specifically, from Nazi-occupied France. Serebin finds himself facing his fifth war, but this time he is an exile, a man without a country, and there is no army to join. Still, in the words of Leon Trotsky, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." Serebin is recruited for an operation run by Count Janos Polanyi, a Hungarian master spy now working for the British secret services.

The battle to cut Germany's oil supply rages through the spy haunts of the Balkans; from the Athenée Palace in Bucharest to a whorehouse in Izmir; from an elegant yacht club in Istanbul to the river docks of Belgrade; from a skating pond in St. Moritz to the fogbound banks of the Danube; in sleazy nightclubs and safe houses and nameless hotels; amid the street fighting of a fascist civil war.

Blood of Victory is classic Alan Furst, combining remarkable authenticity and atmosphere with the complexity and excitement of an outstanding spy thriller. As Walter Shapiro of Time magazine wrote, "Nothing can be like watching Casablanca for the first time, but Furst comes closer than anyone has in years."

On 24 November, 1940, the first light of dawn found the Bulgarian ore freighter Svistov pounding through the Black Sea swells, a long night's journey from Odessa and bound for Istanbul. The writer I. A. Serebin, sleepless as always, left his cabin and stood at the rail, searched the horizon for a sign of the Turkish coast, found only a blood red streak in the eastern sky. Like the old saying, he realized--red sky at morning, sailor take warning. But, a private smile for that. So many ways, he thought, to drown in autumn. The Svistov creaked and groaned, spray burst over the bow as she fought the sea. With cupped hands, Serebin lit a Sobranie cigarette, then watched the dark water churning past the hull until the wind drove him back to the cabin.

As he pulled the door shut, a soft shape stirred beneath the blanket. "Ah, mon ours," she said. My bear. A muffled voice, tender, half asleep. "Are we there?"

"No, not for a long time."

"Well then..." One side of the blanket rose ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The title Blood of Victory comes from a speech given by a French senator at a conference on oil in 1918: "Oil, the blood of the earth, has become, in time of war, the blood of victory." Describe the role that oil plays in Furst's novel. How would you say the relationship between oil and war has changed over time? Given America's relationship with the Middle East since World War II, to what extent would you say oil is now the cause of war?

  2. During Serebin's meeting with "Bastien" (Count Polanyi), Bastien describes the moral ambiguity of espionage in these terms: "People who trust you will get hurt. Is a dead Hitler worth it?" Consider Serebin's response to this question. What moral calculus must he ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New Yorker

Densely atmospheric and genuinely romantic, the novel is most reminiscent of the Hollywood films of the forties, when moral choices were rendered not in black-and-white but in smoky shades of gray.

Publishers Weekly

Critics who thought Furst's previous novel Kingdom of Shadows lacked a clearly linear plot will find much to praise him for in his toothsome new historical espionage thriller....even newcomers will be ensnared by Furst's delicious recreations of a world sliding headlong into oblivion.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

Most of the time, Serebin is in the dark, and so is the reader - a stylistic impulse that mimics the experience of World War II but can create some frustration and a sense of distance from the text. Nevertheless, Furst's spy work is some of the best around.

Booklist - Bill Ott

Starred Review. In some ways, this isn't Furst at his best the plot huffs and puffs its way to a climax on the Danube, where Serebin and some Resistance cohorts slug it out with the Nazis in an overly stage-managed brawl. But Furst creates mood and place so superbly that we really don't care if the action is less than top drawer. It's that teeming Balkans setting we're after, that sense that behind every cup of espresso, there is a plot to overthrow some government or other--and behind every plot there is a woman dressed in silk waiting to be caressed. That's what turns even the best cynics into soldiers, and that's why a Furst novel hardly needs a plot at all.

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