1. 1. It has been said that many of the heroes of World War II were ordinary men and women who responded to extraordinary times. Is this true of Captain de Milja? Do you think he would still be a remarkable person in peacetime? What about the young boy on the train to Pilava?
2. 2. At the beginning of The Polish Officer, Captain de Milja is described as “a soldier” who “knew he didn’t have long to live.” At the very end of the book, he says he “might live through [the war], you never know.” Discuss this change in his outlook. Does his opinion of his chances of survival affect his actions?
3. 3. From the outbreak of fighting until Germany’s surrender, Poland fought an all-out war against the German invasion. Warsaw and many other Polish cities were destroyed, and Poland lost eighteen percent of its population between 1939 and 1945-more than any other country in World War II. By contrast, France lost a much smaller percentage of its population and Paris was left nearly intact after the German occupation. What does this say about collaboration and sacrifice?
4. 4. Critics praise Furst’s ability to re-create the atmosphere of World War II-era Europe with great accuracy. What elements of description make the setting come alive? How can you account for the fact that the settings seem authentic even though you probably have no firsthand knowledge of the times and places he writes about?
5. 5. Furst’s novels have been described as “historical novels,” and as “spy novels.” He calls them “historical spy novels.” Some critics have insisted that they are, simply, novels. How does his work compare with other spy novels you’ve read? What does he do that is the same? Different? If you owned a bookstore, in what section would you display his books?
6. 6. Furst is often praised for his minor characters, which have been described as “sketched out in a few strokes.” Do you have a favorite in this book? Characters in Furst’s books often take part in the action for a few pages and then disappear. What do you think becomes of them? And, if you know, how do you know? What in the book is guiding you toward that opinion?
7. 7. At the end of an Alan Furst novel, the hero is always still alive. What becomes of Furst’s heroes? Will they survive the war? Does Furst know what becomes of them? Would it be better if they were somewhere safe and sound, to live out the end of the war in comfort? If not, why not?
8. 8. Love affairs are always prominent in Furst’s novels, and “love in a time of war” is a recurring theme. Do you think these affairs might last, and lead to marriage and domesticity?
9. 9. How do the notions of good and evil work in The Polish Officer? Would you prefer a confrontation between villain and hero at the end of the book? Do you like Furst’s use of realism in the novel?