The Unwitting

Written by Ellen Feldman
Review by Helene Williams

Nell and Charlie Benjamin have a solid marriage, though it’s not without its ups and downs. They’ve got journalism jobs that feed their need to research and report on politics, a great apartment in New York City overlooking Central Park, a smart, well-adjusted daughter, and an active social life with the “in” crowd. In the early 1960s, the world is theirs to explore and own.

Or, it is until November 22, 1963, when, just as Nell sees the televised coverage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, she receives a phone call that changes everything. She embarks on the biggest investigation of her career, to discover the truth about Charlie, her marriage, and their life together. Was Charlie really working for the CIA? Has everything she’s been working toward really been funded, or tainted by, money and politics? Has she been an unwitting accomplice to a CIA asset? Nell forces herself to reign in her own feelings of rage and betrayal in order to use her more measured investigative reporting skills to untangle the complex web of connections between people, organizations, and money.

Feldman’s intriguing tale is part political thriller, part romance, and all well-written. From the House Un-American Activities Committee, Soviet Russia, and Cold War espionage, to Civil Rights activists, college protests, and coups in Guatemala, the reader sees the postwar world from multiple angles. There’s also plenty of accurate detail in the portrayal of the female characters, who are struggling against gender and cultural norms in their efforts to build careers. Discovery is everywhere, both political and personal. The reader and Nell both learn some useful, though painful, lessons from this exploration of power in the seemingly disparate worlds of politics, international relations, journalism, and philanthropy.