Summary and book reviews of A Woman of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe

A Woman of Intelligence

by Karin Tanabe

A Woman of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe X
A Woman of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe
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  • Published:
    Jul 2021, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

From "a master of historical fiction" (NPR), Karin Tanabe's A Woman of Intelligence is an exhilarating tale of post-war New York City, and one remarkable woman's journey from the United Nations, to the cloistered drawing rooms of Manhattan society, to the secretive ranks of the FBI.

A Fifth Avenue address, parties at the Plaza, two healthy sons, and the ideal husband: what looks like a perfect life for Katharina Edgeworth is anything but. It's 1954, and the post-war American dream has become a nightmare.

A born and bred New Yorker, Katharina is the daughter of immigrants, Ivy-League-educated, and speaks four languages. As a single girl in 1940s Manhattan, she is a translator at the newly formed United Nations, devoting her days to her work and the promise of world peace―and her nights to cocktails and the promise of a good time.

Now the wife of a beloved pediatric surgeon and heir to a shipping fortune, Katharina is trapped in a gilded cage, desperate to escape the constraints of domesticity. So when she is approached by the FBI and asked to join their ranks as an informant, Katharina seizes the opportunity. A man from her past has become a high-level Soviet spy, but no one has been able to infiltrate his circle. Enter Katharina, the perfect woman for the job.

Navigating the demands of the FBI and the secrets of the KGB, she becomes a courier, carrying stolen government documents from D.C. to Manhattan. But as those closest to her lose their covers, and their lives, Katharina's secret soon threatens to ruin her.

With the fast-paced twists of a classic spy thriller, and a nuanced depiction of female experience, A Woman of Intelligence shimmers with intrigue and desire.

CHAPTER 1

Mother.

Only one word cut through the noise of a New York afternoon.

The rest of my neighbor Carrie's monologue was lost to me as a Packard ambulance raced past us along Fifth Avenue, siren screaming and bright red gumball light flashing. On its oversize tires, the Packard looked like a white scarab beetle, slicing a path through Manhattan's congested Upper East Side.

Our view of wide and pulsating Fifth Avenue was flanked by a parade of elms now in full leaf. When the shriek of the sirens had faded, we turned our attention back to each other, two women seated on a wooden bench at the playground near the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Egyptian wing.

Carrie, a red-headed, doe-eyed girl with a pin-up body and an alabaster face, scrunched up her pretty features. "Those ambulances are awfully loud, aren't they?" she noted.

"Indeed."

She glanced uptown, as if they might suddenly start rolling down Fifth Avenue by the dozen, like the tanks during the Victory Parade in '45, nine years back...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This novel reads like a snapshot of 1950s New York City rather than a deep-dive into introspection. The Russian "red menace," Senator McCarthy's war on subversive activities, the media-fueled paranoia about communism in America, these things are never fully excavated. Tanabe renders NYC as a main character in itself in an era when cab rides cost a quarter, when moneyed and marbled halls of wealth coexist with grimy coffee houses, posh bars, and park benches perfect for flirtatious, clandestine meetings...continued

Full Review Members Only (914 words).

(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Bookriot
A smart thriller with heart...and some simmering sexual tension, too.

Shelf Awareness
Taut and thoughtful, A Woman of Intelligence vividly portrays a particular moment in American history while capturing a woman's timeless struggle to create her own life.

Washington Post
There is so much punchy dialogue and funny-sad humor in this novel...This is a mid-20th-century period piece, but oh, how familiar it all seems: Women are judged for not having children, for delaying motherhood or for having children and not staying home. Most radically of all, Tanabe writes spot-on about something many men and women are still loath to talk about: that women can love their children but still crave and need a life outside the home.

Kirkus Reviews
Tanabe crafts the historical setting convincingly, and, although the dialogue can sometimes veer toward mini lectures, the novel moves at a brisk pace even as she weaves together the stories of Rina's domestic dilemmas and her adventures as an undercover agent...Being a traditional 1950s wife and mother turns out to be perfect training for spycraft.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] layered and engrossing Cold War historical...Tanabe injects plenty of credible period details...and depicts the Communist characters with humanity against the chilling backdrop of mutually assured destruction. This would be perfect for a film or TV series.

Author Blurb Sarah Blake, New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Book
What a delicious skein of secrets Karin Tanabe has spooled in A Woman of Intelligence, somehow entwining the lies it takes to sustain the fiction of happy motherhood with the lies it takes to work as a covert operative for the FBI in 1954 at the height of the McCarthy hearings. Katharina Edgeworth's awakening into the gray area of patriotic action is prescient, relevant, and above all, deeply satisfying. I loved diving into this world.


Author Blurb Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Queen's Fortune
Tanabe has long delighted readers of historical fiction with her beautiful writing, compelling plots, and sumptuous historic details. In A Woman of Intelligence, she gives fans a heroine to root for in the strong, complex, and spirited Katharina Edgeworth. This is the story of a woman who dares to dream beyond the gilded cage and stifling social mores into which life has boxed her, and who proves the indelible power of women to change the world in the process.

Author Blurb Renee Rosen, bestselling author of Park Avenue Summer
Karin Tanabe delivers her most complex heroine yet in A Woman of Intelligence...Filled with intrigue and wit, Tanabe takes readers on a meticulously researched journey through post WWII New York. This is a novel for fans of thrillers and historical fiction alike.

Reader Reviews

Gabi

A 3.5 Star Worthwhile Read
It’s NYC in the 1950’s, the early years of the Cold War Era. Communism is a perceived threat. McCarthyism is in full swing. Katharina Edgeworth is living a privileged life as a wife of a doctor and a mother of two healthy spirited boys. An d yet, an...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Seven Sisters: How to Build an Old Girls' Network

Wellesley College campus covered in snowIn Karin Tanabe's novel A Woman of Intelligence, some characters attend all-women's colleges. The narrator Katharina graduated from Vassar and another lead, Ava, graduated from Mount Holyoke. Katharina's occasional babysitter, Sarah Beach, studies at Barnard. These colleges and four other historically women's colleges — Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, Smith and Wellesley — have been nicknamed the Seven Sisters. Each college was founded to offer women intellectually rigorous undergraduate degrees during a century when the Ivy League and many other universities were restricted to men only. (Novelist Karin Tanabe is a graduate of Vassar College; her earlier historical novel, The Gilded Years, is based on the life of Vassar's first African ...

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