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Shake Off by Mischa Hiller

Shake Off (edition 2012)

by Mischa Hiller

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6415267,304 (3.48)8
Title:Shake Off
Authors:Mischa Hiller
Info:Mulholland Books (2012), Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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Shake Off by Mischa Hiller



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The main character of Mischa Hiller’s novel Shake Off is Michel, a survivor of the Sabra Massacre in Lebanon in 1982. A child at the time, he is taken under the wing of Abu Leila and gradually trained in languages and spy tradecraft with the idea that eventually he would be able to aid a resurgence of Palestinian power. He has a lonely, secret life apart from the intimacy of others.

What I found most interesting about this novel was the Palestinian viewpoint. Until about fifteen years ago when I began investigating the subject in earnest, I was, like many Americans, likely to equate Palestinian with terrorist. My knowledge is refined now, however. I have eyes and judgment enough to see the players, as well as failures of leadership.

Nancy O’s review of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird shows how even an apolitical observer of Middle East history places the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila as a defining moment for radicalization of Arabs, Muslims, Lebanese, and Palestinians.

The story Hiller tells in this novel captures the confusion and uncertainty and despair of a young orphan in a refugee camp, and later his willingness, indeed his craving, to believe in kindness and love. It is crafted so that we cannot see the outcome, though the seeds are there if one reexamines the start of the novel.

The love interest of the young man, Helen of London, fascinates me. It seems obvious to me that she is an operative of some sort, but for whom and why, we never learn. With the long-legged Helen (Michel is clearly a leg man), Michel loses his learned restraints and becomes an ordinary man, the kind that cannot help but think with his genitals. I can forgive him that, I suppose, though I don’t think his enemies will. It turns out he is altogether too gullible in general, having come from an area of the world where disagreements often end in bloodshed.

This novel is the second of Hiller’s, the first being Sabra Zoo. Another, called Disengaged, is in the works, due out January 2015. The writing is clear, the viewpoint unique, and the subject positively deadly. Watch for it.

( )
  bowedbookshelf | Oct 6, 2014 |
"Shake Off" (SO) is the second of Mischa Hiller's two novels. SO is about a young Palestinian man who was recruited some years ago by Abu Leila, following the murder of Michel's parents in a refugee camp. Abu has seen to Michel's training, both in spycraft and languages for which Michel has a natural talent. His training and early assignments lead him to Berlin, Moscow, and other capitals. Finally, he settles in a London bedsit awaiting his next assignment. He quickly meets the girl next door, a doll, to whom he is strongly attracted. He has been trained to limit his romances to no more than a week, but Helen is something else. And then there are assignments, and slip-ups, and the competition. Following a surprise assassination, Michele is on the run, and there is a betrayal - whom can he trust? Who is it that he really works for? An excellent novel, one of the better spy novels I have read in the last five years. I look forward to more from Hiller. ( )
  maneekuhi | Sep 23, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I struggled to get into this novel, despite a longstanding affection for thrillers, mysteries and espionage yarns. This one, despite a very promising premise, plods, ambles and meanders. Perhaps the details of tradecraft and all the routine precautions of Michel's existence is more like what day-to-day life is like for a 'real' spy, but if you're more than 100 pages into the book (as I was) and still have no idea of what the point is and are wondering whether it will ever pick up, that's a sign of trouble.

Yes, it eventually got a bit better, but never really delivered on the promise implied by the fact that the spy in question is working for the Palestinians, and trained by the Soviets, while working undercover in London and then finding himself on the run. That should have made for drama and a book that was at least somewhat hard to put down. Instead, I kept putting it down and forgetting to pick it up again. Yes, the writing is very good, which boosts it from a 2/2.5 star rating. The pacing, however, is a real problem -- and that's coming from a reader with a high tolerance for character-driven novels. 3.2 stars. I don't need formulaic poorly-written novels, but I also can't imagine what might prompt me to pick up this book for a re-read. Had it not been an Early Review book, probably wouldn't have finished it at all. ( )
  Chatterbox | Feb 4, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is the first time I've read a spy story told from a non-American perspective and it was quite good. It was a well-written and told story. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the spy genre.
  Myckyee | Jan 27, 2013 |
If you train someone to be a spy, don't be surprised if you can't find him when he runs off. ( )
  picardyrose | Dec 30, 2012 |
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[Origin: Arabic intifada lit., a shaking off, der. of fada to shake off]

An uprising by Palestinians to protest against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
For my parents
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Nobody was there to meet me.
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Posing as a grad student, skilled intelligence operative Michel Khoury begins a relationship with a pretty English girl from his apartment building until the secrets he is keeping send the couple running for their lives through London, Berlin, and Scotland.… (more)

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