When I began City of Secrets, all I knew about my hero, Brand, was that he’d survived the death camps and somehow come to Jerusalem and fallen in with the Haganah, the most moderate branch of the Jewish resistance. Like many survivors, he was there illegally, using false papers provided by the underground. He needed a job, so I asked myself, what kind of jobs do recent immigrants get, especially ones who don’t speak the native language? My first thought, having just been in Paris and New York, was: taxi driver.
Pub Date: April 26, 2016
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.
Advance Review from Booklist:
City of Secrets.
O’Nan, Stewart (Author)
Apr 2016. Viking, hardcover, $22. (9780670785964).
Imaginative and nimble, best-selling historical fiction writer O’Nan (West of Sunset, 2015) is a master of narrative distillation, and in his latest taut novel, set in British-ruled Jerusalem immediately after WWII, he achieves thriller-like suspense. Brand, a Latvian Jew and a mechanic, lost his entire family in the Holocaust and endured internment in Russian and German camps. Bereft, he makes his way to the city and finds work as a taxi driver, shepherding tourists around military checkpoints to visit holy sites, journeys that allow O’Nan to offer incandescent and incisive descriptions of this tinder box of antiquity and modernity, the sacred and the profane—this city in revolt, riven by curfews, searches, arrests, secrets, and betrayals. Haunted by memories of his loved ones and traumatized by survivor’s guilt, Brand finds himselfinvolved with Eva, another Jewish refugee, who is getting by as a prostitute, and through her, the Jewish Resistance movement. O’Nan provides a bare-bones context for the covert battle to overthrow the British and establish a Jewish state, focusing, instead, on the complex, wrenching sorrow driving gentle, romantic, traumatized Brand, a “lover of fireflies and white nights,” as he seeks love, meaning, and atonement. O’Nan’s engrossing portrait of an innocent caught in the web of history cues us to view today’s horrificMiddle East struggles with compassion.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Promotion will be energetic for perennially popular O’Nan’s new release, with author appearances and interviews and plenty of social media coverage.
— Donna Seaman