The Eng­lish Teacher

Yif­tach Reich­er Atir; Philip Simp­son, trans.
  • Review
By – June 30, 2016

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.

Relat­ed Reads:

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions