Monday, March 4, 2019

Review: Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel by Matti Friedman

Title: Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel
Author: Matti Friedman
Format: ARC
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publish Date: March 5, 2019 (Tomorrow!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Intended to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations, the unit consisted of Jews who were native to the Arab world and could thus easily assume Arab identities. In 1948, with Israel’s existence in the balance during the War of Independence, our spies went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a kiosk, collecting intelligence, and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. While performing their dangerous work these men were often unsure to whom they were reporting, and sometimes even who they’d become. Of the dozen spies in the Arab Section at the war’s outbreak, five were caught and executed. But in the end the Arab Section would emerge, improbably, as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel’s vaunted intelligence agency."

My Two Cents:

"Spies of No Country" is the story of four Jewish men who could pass as Arab and were able to move through the world assuming Arab identities. This book covers two different chapters: one when these men were spying back before Israel existed as a state and then after Israel became a state and they continued their spying in Beirut. This was a fascinating book that gives you just a taste of everything that these men went through.

Spies are always interesting to me, especially when they are able to pass seamlessly into the environments that they find themselves spying in. I had never given much thought to what it would take for a spy to go unnoticed in a place such as Palestine during and just after World War II. The tension there would have been massive and the entire environment would have been so unstable.

I enjoyed learning about these men and I appreciated that Friedman was able to count on firsthand interviews from one of the men (that research is absolutely priceless!!!). I did wish that the book included more detail. In many ways, the book is a collection of missions. I wanted to know a little more context but I always appreciate when a book whets my appetite to go do more research on my own. This was a solid non-fiction!



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