City of Secrets

Written by Stewart O'Nan

Many of us cannot imagine what it is like to be a survivor of Hitler’s horrific Holocaust. However, Brand, a Latvian Jew and this novel’s main character, shares a common trait with other survivors, as has been described in written and oral accounts: an absence of feelings of connection or commitment. Adding to his terrible memories is knowledge of the deaths of those who tried to escape wartime Germany and were turned back, or who died en route to Israel.

Brand found a basic job driving a taxi in Israel and eventually became a secret member of the underground Jewish resistance movement. The Haganah and Irgun groups have at times melded to inflict maximum damage on the British occupiers. Brand has found a comfort zone in his relationship with a widow, Eva, who refuses to talk about love. Initially, Brand yearns to do more than drive for the resistance. As he seeks to become acknowledged as an active, faithful member, a series of actions taken compel him to realize that few members are prized, and all are dispensable. The violence and poignancy of each “job” is palpable. The swift response of the British is just as volatile as the resistance attacks. Then tragedy strikes in one catastrophic event, and that attack rips open the hard, protective shell that encases Brand. Both he and Israel will never be the same afterwards.

Stewart O’Nan writes in a dark style that conveys the loudest, most vital message about choices with subtle shifts in dialogue and action. Language is a precious gift in the possession of this well-known writer, who has created a memorable historical thriller that is highly recommended.