Once a Spy, Always a Spy – The English Teacher

  • Unknown-2The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher Atir, Philip Simpson (Translator) (Penguin Books, August 2016) Charlotte Albanna (narrator, Penguin Audio)
  • In 40 words or less: A retired Mossad officer, Atir uses his experience to bare the personal conflicts of an intelligence operative and her handler through a retrospective of their mutual history.  An unconventional thriller, the day-to-day costs of spy craft are as compelling as the missions.
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Locale: London, Israel, unidentified Arab nation
  • Time: Contemporary
  • Read this for an insider’s perspective on the personal price of intelligence work, wrapped in a well-crafted story.

Rachel leads three lives: 1) Rachel Goldshmitt, London-raised and educated daughter who has moved to Israel; 2) Rachel Ravid, Mossad operative; and 3) Rachel Brooks, Canadian Christian English teacher, nature enthusiast and tourist.    Upon the death of her father, Rachel decides to take back her life. Using the skills taught in training, she disappears raising alerts in the agency. Operatives are not permitted to leave the life – it’s too dangerous for all concerned.

From her initial training, Rachel has worked with Ehud, one of the agency’s most senior and skilled handlers. Rachel was his prized student, and his concern and infatuation for her created schisms within in his own family, though Rachel carefully kept dealings only professional. Now, having left the agency, Ehud is called back to recall every detail of their twenty-plus year association in the hope of finding clues to her location. Atir goes back and forth, having Rachel and Ehud voice the details of their operations and communications over the years.

Articles about Atir and his writing indicate that the Mossad demanded changes to plot and techniques to protect its operations. Presumably, there is also some measure of literary license to bring the story together. What Atir accomplishes is bringing the reader face-to-face with the extraordinary stresses and sacrifices demanded of embedded operatives, often for extended periods of time. Operatives may be required to develop relationships, only to leave in the dark of night with no future contact. The English Teacher achingly describes the loneliness of a woman living a dual-life, but really having no life at all.

Note: I listened to the audiobook, thanks to an early copy from Penguin Audio. This is a great book, regardless of format.