“The book you are holding in your hands is the true story of what never happened,” says author Yiftach Reicher Atir in his introductory note. His novel, based on his experience as a military intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Forces, examines the life of an undercover operative, Rachel Goldschmitt. Rachel takes leave to attend her father’s funeral and sit shiva, but she never returns. Instead, she empties her bank account and disappears. Ehud, her handler, receives a cryptic phone call and knows that he has to report the disappearance to the Mossad. Since Rachel was working undercover as an English teacher in an Arab town, she knows things that could damage Israel.
Ehud and his retired handler, Joe, work with the Mossad to track Rachel down. In the process, Rachel’s story is revealed and readers also learn a great deal about undercover work. The Mossad vetted and censored the book before publication, but the loneliness and constant anxiety of undercover operatives is apparent as the story unfolds. Operatives must be vigilant at all times, maintaining the identity and cover story that they have developed. Friendship is problematic and love could be dangerous. The moral and ethical situations that arise are difficult as well. The operatives must perform morally dubious deeds to defend the country that is, in many ways, exploiting them.
This is a quiet, thought-provoking page turner that will appeal to readers who enjoy John le Carré. It presents a realistic picture of the stress involved in living a double life and dilemma facing the spy handlers who care about their operatives and are responsible for their safety. The English Teacher is an excellent choice for book clubs as well as public and synagogue libraries with fiction collections.