Dov Alfon – A Long Night in Paris

Dov Alfon – A Long Night in Paris

When an Israeli IT specialist is abducted at Charles de Gaulle airport, this is not given too much attention at first. But since it can serve as a great story to redirect public interest from the latest of the Prime Minister’s misconducts, suddenly this incident turns into the top issue. And as it turns out, the case of the abducted Israeli becomes one of the most complicated and deadly warfares on French ground. While the newly appointed head of the Israel Special Section 8200 Abadi is fighting Chinese killers with a clear and uncompromising mission in the French capital, his deputy Oriana Talmor is struggling in Tel Aviv with their own people who appear to be much more interested in their personal agendas than in the country’s security. A long day and an even longer night lies in front of this seemingly mismatched pair.

Dov Alfon certainly knows what he is writing about and there are some interesting parallels between his own life and his protagonist Abadi. Both grew up in France which their parents left when they were still school boys. He did his military service in the IDF’s technological intelligence unit before becoming an awarded journalist. To sum up, “A Long Night in Paris” is a fast-paced spy novel which is highly complex in its plot and gives a lot of insight in what is going on behind the closed doors of one of the world’s most famous and most secretive services.

The story is simply addictive. Once you’ve started you can’t put the book down since you’re hooked and you want to know how all the different dots connect. What I liked most about it was the fact that it is not by surprising coincidences that the plot advances but by the doing of very intelligent characters. They are not only well-trained soldiers, but also the elite which is demonstrated breath-takingly. Even under the highest pressure, they keep calm and can control the situation.

Oriana Talmor is certainly a very interesting character. It is rare to have a female protagonist in a spy novel (who is not just the seductive sidekick of the big enemy), and in my impression she is well-balanced between the intelligent soldier and the human being who is sensitive and to whom also self-doubts aren’t unknown. This was especially shown in the scene where she motivates her female duty sergeant Rachel to continue her career as an officer.

The 2017 book sensation from Israel luckily now also available in other languages and without a doubt a novel that can compete with John Le Carré’s or Daniel Silva’s novels.

Michael Ondaatje – Warlight

Michael Ondaatje – Warlight

Rachel and Nathaniel were still teenagers when immediately after WW II their parents packed to leave the country. The kids were supposed to attend boarding school after summer break, but only a few days after the school had begun again, they left and went completely to live with a man they named „The Moth“ who was supposed to be their caretaker while the parents were away. Even though they at first felt left behind, it was a time of freedom and carelessness, the house often full of interesting and mysterious people and both, Nathaniel and Rachel, became somehow used to the situation. When their mother suddenly showed up again, they understood that things were not what they had thought them to be. It was only after their mother’s death, when Nathaniel is approached by special operations, that he gains insight in who his mother had actually been.

“Warlight” – during the time of the second world war, when there were frequent blackouts in London, there was only the so called “Warlight”, dimmed lights to guide emergency traffic, the rest was covered in black and you could only sense movements in the shadow but not see them. This is the perfect title for Michael Ondaatje’s novel: a lot of what happens remains somewhere in the dark for the protagonist to see. He can only assume things from the quick glances he is granted, but he cannot be sure if his hypotheses are correct. It also represents quite well the atmosphere which is always a bit gloomy and melancholy and certainly never joyful.

At the beginning of the novel, the reader just as the protagonist and narrator is quite irritated by the parents’ behaviour. They leave the country, neither telling their children where exactly they are headed too or why after all they have to leave. The teenagers stay with people they hardly know and not to forget: the war has just ended and the memories of the bombings are still fresh. How could ever parents do such a thing? It becomes even more infuriating when they find their mother’s luggage which she obviously didn’t take with her. It takes some time to figure out the mother’s real role and thus to understand her behaviour. This is also when the novel becomes the most interesting.

This is also where Michael Ondaatje’s virtuosity becomes evident: none of the characters, no matter how random he or she seemed, was introduced without a reason and they all have their specific role in the novel. It all makes sense and culminates in much greater questions than the nucleus of a single family we are presented with at first can ever offer: how far would you go for your country? What are you willing to sacrifice? And it clearly shows that the two categories of “good” and “bad” are simply inadequate for the world we are living in.

Julia Sutton – A Sea of Straw

Julia Sutton – A Sea of Straw

1966, Jody, a Manchester designer, and her baby girl Anna come to Lisbon to enjoy themselves far away from her estranged husband. When she meets the Portuguese painter Zé, she immediately falls for him. Soon they are making plans even though Zé is supposed to join the military, but he is positive that his father can bail him out. Jody and Anna need to return to England, but this is only meant for leaving her husband finally and packing her belongings before she can ultimately settle in Lisbon. Zé is waiting for her, but she never embarks the ferry she is supposed to take. Zé is desperate, not only because of longing for Jody but also for wanting to escape from the approaching date of his marching order. He does not want to become a supporter of the Salazar system; thus he decides the risky way across the border to join Jody in England.

Julia Sutton’s novel is set against the complicate political situation in Portugal at the end of the 1960s. Even though the protagonist Zé seems to be a bit naive and not a leader of any underground movement to overthrow the oppressive system, you get an insight in how the rulers and especially the secret service worked at the time. Even though the love story is the main motor to drive the story, the political aspects dominate over large parts of the story.

It is especially the moment when Zé is captured by PIDE that the novel becomes most interesting and convincing. What he experiences in prison, the treatment and methods of making prisoners not only betray their friends and comrades but also how they are tricked and how little a human life is worth – repellent and disgusting. However, this is neither unusual nor especially brutal, it is just how these kind of systems work.

On the other hand, I found the societal or rather familial pressure which Jody experiences back in England almost as cruel as what Zé suffers in Portugal. How clearly her husband makes decisions and can enforce them – unbelievable for us today, but in the 1960s women were far from enjoying the rights they do today.

Even though the novel had many though-provoking aspects and was surely well researched, I found it was a bit long drawn-out at times and going round in circles. It lacked a bit of focus, was it meant to tell or love story or rather depict life in Portugal under the Salazar regime or show how limited female freedom was at that time? The author seems to be a bit undecided about it.