Thrillers From Israel
The English Teacher: A Novel by Yiftach Reicher Atir. Translated from the Hebrew by Philip Simpson. (Penguin Books, 260 pp. $16)
Forbidden Love in St. Petersburg: A Thriller by Mishka Ben-David. Translated from the Hebrew by Dan Gillon. (Overlook, 432 pp. $26.95)
The English Teacher is Yiftach Atir’s first book to be translated into English. (Atir, a former brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, has written two other novels). The two main characters are Ehud, a Mossad handler who supervises the undercover work of a young woman, Rachel, for whom he develops amorous feelings that he must keep hidden. He is her link to her work and the rest of the world. Rachel is assigned to live in an unnamed Arab country, where she works as an English teacher, forms friendships and even falls in love–yet she cannot tell anyone the truth of who she is and what she is doing.
The isolation and her expertise grow apace. She cannot have her heart’s desire, so Ehud and his superiors bring her back to Israel, where she lives an uninspired life. Fifteen years later, she disappears. She must be found at all costs because of the secrets she knows.
Interestingly, Mishka Ben-David’s second translated thriller, Forbidden Love in St. Petersburg (his first was Duet in Beirut) is thematically related to The English Teacher. In this case, however, it is Yogev Ben-Ari who is sent by the Mossad to live undercover in St. Petersburg. Like Rachel, he creates a new identity, as a businessman, but his life is lonely until he meets Anna. Here, too, there is the joy of encountering someone to love, yet the tension of keeping one’s true identity and work hidden. He hides his true self from Anna and hides his new love from the Mossad.
How can this dilemma be resolved? The only hint I will offer is that both books have very different endings.