Summary and book reviews of City of Secrets by Stewart O'Nan

City of Secrets

by Stewart O'Nan

City of Secrets by Stewart O'Nan X
City of Secrets by Stewart O'Nan
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

1

When the war came Brand was lucky, spared death because he was young and could fix an engine, unlike his wife Katya and his mother and father and baby sister Giggi, unlike his grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. A Latvian and a Jew, he was interned first by the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again. By chance, he lived. While he was tempted almost daily (really, nightly), he wasn't enough of a fatalist to return the gift. The winter after the war, with no home to go back to and no graves to venerate, he signed on a Maltese freighter and landed in Jerusalem, realizing his mother's lifelong dream. In their dining room in Riga hung a bad lithograph of the walled city like a fortress out of Beau Geste, its stone golden in the numinous desert light. At the end of the seder, his Grandfather Udelson raised his glass to it.

"Next year in Jerusalem." For Brand it was next year, without sweetness.

Like so many refugees, he drove a taxi, provided, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In his introductory letter to the reader, O’Nan quotes David Lynch: “It’s people in trouble, at night, with a little bit of wind and the right kind of music.” It’s an old story - yes - but in City of Secrets, it has been made new. It is a novel to be read quickly the first time because it is difficult to put down. Afterward, it becomes a novel to read again and again because each time, the labyrinth of Jerusalem streets will offer up a new gem.   (Reviewed by Naomi Benaron).

Full Review (940 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
O'Nan's novel works on several levels, but it is especially memorable as a story where the tortured emotions of its characters are indistinguishable from the turmoil of the chaotic events that overwhelm them.

Booklist
Starred Review. Imaginative and nimble, O'Nan 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... [an] engrossing portrait of an innocent caught in the web of history.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A probing, keening thriller... though rigorously unsentimental, the text seethes with unresolved emotions... the complex moral issues it raises linger unsettlingly.

Author Blurb Alan Furst, New York Times bestselling author of Mission to Paris
Stewart O'Nan's City of Secrets will keep you up all night reading – what a beautifully crafted novel.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord
Finely wrought and morally complex, O'Nan's considerable story-telling powers are masterfully deployed here.  With deft strokes, he evokes the tensions and tragedies of Mandate Jerusalem, riven then as now by the fault lines of community and conscience.

Author Blurb Chris Pavone, author of The Expats
I've been a Stewart O'Nan fan since his very first novel, and never more so than with his latest. In City of Secrets, O'Nan takes his mastery of language and depth of character in a fresh direction: a richly nuanced suspense novel, set in an immensely intriguing post-war Jerusalem. A remarkable book.

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Beyond the Book

Jewish Resistance in Mandatory Palestine

Haganah Members in TrainingStewart O'Nan's City of Secrets begins in Mandatory Palestine when there were three main organizations in the Jewish resistance: the Haganah, Irgun, and Lohamei Herut Israel, commonly known as the Stern Gang. The first organization was the Haganah, which means "defense" in Hebrew. It began in 1920 in response to Arab violence against the yishuv, the body of Jewish residents in the territory of Palestine. Zionist immigration to Palestine had been increasing since the Balfour Declaration, a "declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations" was signed in the UK in 1917. For the most part, Arabs and Jews coexisted in relative peace, but the large waves of Jewish immigrants alarmed a portion of the Arab population, resulting in the Arab ...

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