“The English Teacher,” by Yiftach Reicher Atir

Translated by Philip Simpson. Penguin Books. 272 pp. Trade paperback $16.00.

This psychological thriller probes the damaging uncertainties of life undercover.

Rachel Goldshmitt, Rachel Brooks, Rachel Ravid. Who is Rachel, exactly? Knowing she is a Mossad operative involved in a dangerous undercover assignment only begins to answer the question.  Cover_TheEnglishTeacher

In this dark, interior tale, identity is scrutinized from several angles: identity hidden, identity adopted, identity lost. How does an operative playing out her cover story hold on to who she really is underneath? What does she have to sacrifice to be effective? And is she, herself, the sacrifice?

The English Teacher begins with the disappearance of this seasoned and exceptionally successful operative. Her former mentor and handler, Ehud, along with another senior Mossad operative, is assigned to determine what happened to her.

While Ehud cares deeply about this woman, whom he has known and secretly loved for a long time, it is not caring alone that motivates him. A stray agent is a danger to the Mossad and to Israeli security. She knows too much. How could this person, who as a young woman immigrated to Israel and whose Zionist passion made her a fairly easy recruit, simply disappear?

Much of the novel follows the investigation conducted by Ehud and his associate, Joe. Their dialogue is a rich blend of their personal and professional lives. For Ehud, his future is at stake. While the two men have a high degree of trust and shared understanding of the spy business, there is a game going on in which Joe has the upper hand.

Yiftach Reicher Atir

Yiftach Reicher Atir

Another dimension of the novel follows Ehud’s interior life at various times in his life and in his relationship with Rachel. And yet another segment, by far the most provocative, though dependent on insights afforded by the other characters, follows Rachel: her challenges, her loneliness, her search for a way of holding on to a centered self among the variable selves she dons for her country.

Rachel, whose cover is as a Canadian citizen raised in England, enters an Arab city (probably left unidentified due to Israeli censorship) and finds work at a school specializing in teaching English. She had already developed this skill while living in the Israeli town of Rehovot.

Breaking every rule, but perhaps still with a spy’s intent, she allows herself an affair with an Arab man named Rashid. In his company, she can visit places at which she might otherwise seem out of place. . . . .

To see the entire review in its original appearance, click here: The English Teacher | Washington Independent Review of Books

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Filed under Authors and Books, Jewish Themes

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