Longlisted for the National Book Award and named a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.
Growing up, Scott C. Johnson always suspected that his father was different. Only as a teenager did he discover the truth: his father was a spy, one of the CIA’s most trusted officers. At first the secret was thrilling. But over time Scott began to have doubts. How could a man so rigorously trained to deceive and manipulate simply turn off those skills at home? His father had been living a double life for so long that his lies were hard to separate from the truth.
When Scott embarked on a career as a foreign correspondent, he found himself returning to many of the troubled countries of his youth. In the dusty streets of Pakistan and Afghanistan, amid the cold urbanity of Yugoslavia, and down the mysterious alleys of Mexico City, he came face to face with his father’s murky past—and his own complicity in it. Scott learned that his chosen profession was not so different from his father’s: they both worked to gain people’s trust and to uncover their secrets. The only difference was what they did with that information.
In the aftermath of 9/11, father and son found themselves on assignment in Afghanistan and the Middle East, one as a CIA contractor, the other as a reporter for Newsweek. Suddenly, an unsettled Scott was forced to keep his father’s secret all over again. As their professional lives collided, Scott and his father inched toward a personal reckoning, struggling to overcome a lifetime of suspicion and deception.
The Wolf and the Watchman is a provocative, meditative account of truth and duplicity, of manipulation and loyalty. It is also a moving, intensely personal portrait of a bond between father and son that endured in the shadow of one of the world’s most secretive and unforgiving institutions.
* PEN Center USA Award Finalist
Reading group guide available.
The bitter truth of his father working for the CIA years ago still haunts Johnson, a former Newsweek foreign correspondent, and that knowledge forms the spine of this revealing book of family discord, disconnection, and reunion. He never sugarcoats the sense of betrayal his father inspired due to the years of falsely claiming to be a diplomat; a betrayal of both Johnson and his adoptive mother, who felt tricked into a marriage of convenience and dark secrets. "e simply stopped trusting each other under the strain of the many lies." The consequences of this double life linger for years; even affecting his father's political ambitions as GOP smears derail a senatorial bid. Johnson despises his father's ongoing misinformation and misrepresentations, refusing to remain complicit in the necessary duplicities of espionage. Determined not to follow his father's deceptive footsteps, Johnson becomes a foreign journalist, mainly in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where he encounters an ex-al Qaeda agent and learns the arts of forgiveness and parental pride. Johnson's engrossing memoir, through the layers of subterfuge, uncovers many basic truths of familial conflict, allowing concessions and reconciliation to eventually win the day despite the years of lies and poor choices.