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City of Secrets: A Novel by Stewart O'Nan
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City of Secrets: A Novel (2016)

by Stewart O'Nan

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Brand is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, now working as a cab driver in Palestine and using the name Jossi. Haunted by his time as a Nazi prisoner and feeling guilt as a survivor when everyone he loved had been killed in the Holocaust, Jossi is also part of a cell working for an independent Israeli state, committing terror acts against the British Mandate, and in love, perhaps, with a woman prostituting herself for the cause. As the missions grow more explosive, Brand's conflict grows, too.

I haven't read much about this historic time and place -- it's been decades since I read Leon Uris' Exodus -- and I was quickly drawn into the story, thanks to Brand's conflicted point of view and O'Nan's clear, precise prose. O'Nan is one of those authors who says so much with few words. This is a short novel, under 200 pages in trade paperback, but it packs an emotional punch. ( )
1 vote ShellyS | Jul 22, 2017 |
Set immediately following World War II, this book tells the story of a Latvian Jew who survived because of an underground network. He's involved in the resistance to the British Mandate. While the story is well-written, it failed to really grip me. I suspect part of that is because of how little I know about the period between the war and the time Israel became a nation. It's a short, quick read. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jul 13, 2017 |
Excellent writing and I learned a lot about post-World War II Israel , but I wish I had more knowledge about the politics and political groups in Israel. What I did get was a feel for those immigrants who had lost everything in the Holocaust and came to Israel to begin again. Brand and Eva are interesting immigrants who have lost so much. But because I lacked so much background information it wasn’t a compelling storyline. ( )
  brangwinn | Apr 16, 2017 |
This book describes the exploits of a Latvian Jew in post-WWII Jerusalem. He is a terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on your political positioning) and is set up there by members of his sect after losing his family at the hands of the Nazis. The unfortunate thing is that I know not enough about the political situation in Israel after WWII, and I think this has damaged my ability to read this book and understand the significance of events.

What I did like about it was the descriptions of his conflicted feelings about a new love and his old wife, who was killed in the death camps. These moments of sweetness and reflection are what drew me in to the character, but they were few, and far between and overall, I felt I couldn't get to know the main protagonist well enough to be pulled in to the story fully. ( )
  Ireadthereforeiam | Mar 27, 2017 |
O'Nan's latest is a bit of a mash-up of noir, historical fiction, and thriller, and I don't know if it's a case of wrong book at the wrong time, but I had trouble getting into it. I love O'Nan. LOVE him. I've loved everything of his I've read, so I suspect I should one day give this novel another chance. As it is, I did get more engaged in the last third or so, and 3.5 stars is nothing to sneeze at. I just expect to find everything he does brilliant :)

I may have been too tired and distracted while reading to really appreciate this story of a Latvian Jew - survivor of Russian pogroms and German camps - in post-Work War II Jerusalem who gets caught up in the intrigue of the resistance against the British Mandate. Too much of the story and motivations were opaque to me, and I kept feeling like I had missed something important. Still, the novel is characterized by O'Nan's excellent writing and talent for the telling detail to completely illuminate a scene.

If you have never read O'Nan, don't start here. But do come back to it, and give it a try once you grasp his talent. ( )
2 vote katiekrug | Aug 1, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670785962, Hardcover)

From master storyteller Stewart O'Nan, 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. 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 19 Oct 2015 12:17:55 -0400)

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