“Stewart O’Nan’s City of Secrets will keep you up all night reading – what a beautifully crafted novel.” – Alan Furst, New York Times bestselling author of Mission to Paris
From master storyteller Stewart O'Nan, author of Henry, Himself and Emily, Alone, a timely moral thriller of the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem after the Second World War
In 1945, with no homes to return to, Jewish refugees by the tens of thousands set out for Palestine. Those who made it were hunted as illegals by the British mandatory authorities there and relied on the underground to shelter them; taking fake names, they blended with the population, joining the wildly different factions fighting for the independence of Israel. From master storyteller Stewart O'Nan, author of Emily, Alone and Henry, Himself, City of Secrets follows one survivor, Brand, as he tries to regain himself after losing everyone he's ever loved. Now driving a taxi provided—like his new identity—by the underground, he navigates the twisting streets of Jerusalem as well as the overlapping, sometimes deadly loyalties of the resistance. Alone, haunted by memories, he tries to become again the man he was before the war—honest, strong, capable of moral choice. He falls in love with Eva, a fellow survivor and member of his cell, reclaims his faith, and commits himself to the revolution, accepting secret missions that grow more and more dangerous even as he begins to suspect he's being used by their cell's dashing leader, Asher. By the time Brand understands the truth, it's too late, and the tragedy that ensues changes history. A noirish, deeply felt novel of intrigue and identity written in O'Nan's trademark lucent style, City of Secrets asks how both despair and faith can lead us astray, and what happens when, with the noblest intentions, we join movements beyond our control.
Jerusalem under British occupation in the years immediately following World War II serves as the backdrop for O'Nan's (West of Sunset) intriguing new novel, a Conradian espionage thriller leavened with existential introspection. Its protagonist is Jossi Brand, a Latvian Jew who survived the concentration camps owing to his skills as a mechanic, and who now drives a cab for a living. One of the many refugees who snuck into Palestine in the late 1940s and lived an underground existence under an assumed name, Brand has drifted into a cell of the Haganah, a resistance group fighting for Jewish independence that begins sending him on increasingly dangerous and desperate missions, the tragic outcome of which seems inevitable. As depicted by O'Nan, Brand's world is one of murky uncertainties, where betrayal by cell members is as likely as arrest by the authorities, and the secretiveness of resistance operations sows suspicion and paranoia among the cell members. Brand's personal psychological torment compounds these effects: the only member of his family to survive the war, he is wracked with pangs of survivor's guilt, and his earnest attempts to regain his sense of dignity through his love for Eva, a prostitute who has also lost everything, are rebuffed out of his fear that he'll become too close to her. O'Nan's novel works on several levels, but it is especially memorable as a story where the tortured emotions of its characters are indistinguishable from the turmoil of the chaotic events that overwhelm them.