Rosalie Knecht – Who Is Vera Kelly?

Rosalie Knecht – Who is Vera Kelly?

After a turbulent youth, the break-up with her mom, some time in a detention centre and no plan what to do with her life, Vera ends up in New York, trying this job and that job. One day, she is addressed by a man who noticed her quick wits and technical understanding. He is a recruiter for the CIA and thus, a couple of years later, Vera finds herself in Buenos Aires with the fake ID of a Canadian student named Anne. Her mission: spy on a group of students who the CIA believes to work for the KGB in order to ally Argentina with the Soviet Union. Vera/Anne makes befriends Ramón and Victoria who have radicalised and are disappointed by how the country is governed. Yet, then suddenly, the military ventures a coup d’état and General Onganía’s men take over. Vera/Anne is stuck, foreigners are not allowed to travel anymore, her local contact betrayed her and she gets the runaround by her superior within the CIA. Either she acts for herself, or she is lost.

“Who Is Vera Kelly?” is not an easy to classify novel. It is a kind of bildungsroman, we get to know young Vera who protests against her mother and school and has to grow up the hard way. A young woman who is looking for her place in life and oscillates between different options without a clear aim. On the other hand, the novel is a political or spy crime novel since we have Vera/Anne prying on rebellious students to uncover any KGB involvement in Argentina and also the time after the Revolución which brings the military dictatorship and severe restrictions for the people.

At both times of her life, Vera is lonely, her affection for her school friend is not returned and also when she arrives in New York does she not find a person to really bond with. This qualifies for a lone spy job abroad where she is left to her own devices and cannot really build deep friendships. The experiences she made as a teenager, especially with her mother who kicked her out into the detention centre and did not show any interest in her, gave her quite a good education for her mission.

Vera is not a classic heroine, she is no James Bond and does not compare to any other dazzling movie character. She is actually the perfect spy, she blends in smoothly, goes unnoticed and her technical skills allow her even without any sophisticated equipment to get the information she needs. When she finds herself deserted of all contacts and help, she is close to breaking down but then shows her real strength. She just goes on and finds a solution to escape.

A perfect blend of a young woman who is far ahead of her time in terms of emancipation and going her own way and a world in political turmoil. The plot becomes increasingly suspenseful and thus is a real page-turner.

Samuel Park – The Caregiver

samuel-park-the-caregiver
Samuel Park – The Caregiver

In the 1990s, Mara Alcenar is living in California and working as a caregiver for a woman who suffers from cancer. She has been in the US for many years, illegally like so many others and always struggling to survive and hoping not to be caught. Yet, going back to Brazil is not an option; it is just her thoughts that frequently return to her native country. She remembers the time when she was six and living with her mother Ana who worked in the film industry and dubbed foreign productions. She was also a great actor which lead her to a fatal decision: being offered a “role” by leftist rebels, Ana Alcenar couldn’t refuse. She needed the money for herself and Mara. But then, something went completely wrong at the Police Chief’s office. Years later, Mara is a teenager and gets the chance to revenge her mother – but is the episode as she remembers is actually the truth?

Samuel Park’s novel “The caregiver” focuses on two completely different aspects: on the one hand, he addresses political questions such as the military rulers of South America in the 20th century and the precarious situation of immigrants from these countries in the US. On the other hand, he has a very personal topic that the novel makes you think about: what do loving and caring mean and how far would you go for the ones you love?

For me, the parts of the novel that are set in Rio de Janeiro were the most impressive. The author really gives you a good idea of how life was like under those political circumstances and how important your personal bonds were to survive. The neighbour becomes crucial for survival, you find yourself quickly caught between the lines and even if you want to keep away from politics, this isn’t always possible. And there is not just black and white, but many shades of grey.

The question of what loving somebody means is also crucial in the novel. Not the love between lovers, but much more the compassion you feel towards family members and those close to you, how much you are willing to endure and even more importantly: how much you are willing to forgive and to forget.

A novel full of food for thought and at the same time wonderfully written.