From Publishers Weekly
This promises to be about a mystery relating to a pro-British spy ring in WWI Palestine; in the end it delivers both more and less. Halkin, who delightfully explored another historical mystery in Across the Sabbath River
, looks at the dramatic early history of Zichron Ya'akov, one of the first Zionist settlements in Palestine. During WWI, Yosef Lishansky and Sarah Aaronsohn, young locals who favored the British over the ruling Ottomans, led the spy ring, called Nili, bringing internecine conflict and Ottoman retribution to the town. Caught by the Turks, Aaronsohn was tortured and committed suicide; Lishansky was hanged. This much is generally known. But Halkin, poking around local ruins and interviewing old-timers after moving to Zichron in the early '70s, pursues two linked mysteries: was Nili betrayed by a Zichron resident, Perl Appelbaum, and was Appelbaum in turn poisoned in revenge? In exploring these questions, Halkin vividly portrays the Nili protagonists, the rough life in early Zichron, ideological divisions among various Zionist groups, the easy relations between settlers and native Arabs, and the buried secrets and passions of an average town. But the tale gets hijacked by one of Halkin's main sources, whose dramatic but digressive—and, it turns out, heavily fabricated—accounts of his own youth in Zichron detract from the narrative's momentum and coherence. (June)
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The community of Zichron Ya'akov is located in the southern foothills of the Carmel Mountains near Haifa. Today, this picturesque village is a tourist attraction for both Israelis and foreigners, but in 1917 this Zionist settlement was at the heart of an enduring espionage mystery that still haunts its inhabitants. Halkin is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post
and has lived in Zichron Ya'akov since 1970. During World War I, the settlement sheltered a spy ring that passed information to the British about Ottoman military capabilities and maneuvers. The ring was uncovered; the Turks executed two members, and a third committed suicide to avoid torture. Who betrayed them and why? What happened to the supposed informants? In probing the mystery, Halkin uses the tools of an expert novelist and a skilled investigative journalist. His narrative moves smoothly back and forth in time, from pre-Mandate Palestine to contemporary Israel. His book is both a tale of intrigue and a sociological survey of the evolution of a small community over nine decades. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved