City Of Secrets: A Novel by Stewart O'Nan

City Of Secrets: A Novel

byStewart O'Nan

Paperback | April 25, 2017

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“Stewart O’Nan’s City of Secrets will keep you up all night reading – what a beautifully crafted novel.” – Alan Furst, New York Times bestselling author of Mission to Paris

From master storyteller Stewart O'Nan, a timely moral thriller of the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem after the Second World War


In 1945, with no homes to return to, Jewish refugees by the tens of thousands set out for Palestine. Those who made it were hunted as illegals by the British mandatory authorities there and relied on the underground to shelter them; taking fake names, they blended with the population, joining the wildly different factions fighting for the independence of Israel. City of Secrets follows one survivor, Brand, as he tries to regain himself after losing everyone he's ever loved. Now driving a taxi provided—like his new identity—by the underground, he navigates the twisting streets of Jerusalem as well as the overlapping, sometimes deadly loyalties of the resistance. Alone, haunted by memories, he tries to become again the man he was before the war—honest, strong, capable of moral choice. He falls in love with Eva, a fellow survivor and member of his cell, reclaims his faith, and commits himself to the revolution, accepting secret missions that grow more and more dangerous even as he begins to suspect he's being used by their cell's dashing leader, Asher. By the time Brand understands the truth, it's too late, and the tragedy that ensues changes history. A noirish, deeply felt novel of intrigue and identity written in O'Nan's trademark lucent style, City of Secrets asks how both despair and faith can lead us astray, and what happens when, with the noblest intentions, we join movements beyond our control.


From the Hardcover edition.

About The Author

Stewart O'Nan is the author of fifteen previous novels, including West of Sunset, The Odds, Emily Alone, Songs for the Missing, Last Night at the Lobster, A Prayer for the Dying, and Snow Angels. His 2007, novel Last Night at the Lobster, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He was born and rai...
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Title:City Of Secrets: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 7.8 × 5.1 × 0.6 inPublished:April 25, 2017Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143108948

ISBN - 13:9780143108948

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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***Copyright © 2016 Stewart O'Nan1When the war came Brand was lucky, spared death because he was young and could fix an engine, unlike his wife Katya and his mother and father and baby sister Giggi, unlike his grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. A Latvian and a Jew, he was interned first by the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again. By chance, he lived. While he was tempted almost daily (really, nightly), he wasn’t enough of a fatalist to return the gift. The winter after the war, with no home to go back to and no graves to venerate, he signed on a Maltese freighter and landed in Jerusalem, realizing his mother’s lifelong dream. In their dining room in Riga hung a bad lithograph of the walled city like a fortress out of Beau Geste, its stone golden in the numinous desert light. At the end of the seder, his Grandfather Udelson raised his glass to it.“Next year in Jerusalem.” For Brand it was next year, without sweetness.Like so many refugees, he drove a taxi, provided, like his papers, by the underground. His new name was Jossi. His job to listen—again, lucky, since as a prisoner he had years of experience. With his fair hair and grade school Hebrew, he could be trusted. The British soldiers, the blissful pilgrim gawking tourists all wanted to talk. They spoke to him as if he were slow, leaning in close behind his ear, shaping each syllable.Where was he from? What did he think of the trials? How did he like living in Jerusalem?“I like it;” the man he was pretending to be said, instead of “It’s better than the camps," or "I like living," or, honestly, "I don’t know."The city was a puzzle box built of symbols, a confusion of old and new, armored cars and donkeys in the streets, Bedouin bankers. The Turks and Haredim, the showy Greek and Russian processions—everyone seemed to be in costume, reenacting the miraculous past. The very stones were secondhand, scavenged and fit back into place haphazardly, their Roman inscriptions inverted. It was the rainy season, and the walls were gray instead of golden, the souks teeming with rats. A wind thrashed the poplars and olive trees, stirring up trash in cul-de-sacs, rattling windows. He'd lost too much weight during the war and couldn't get warm. When he ran out kerosene, his contact Asher brought him a jerry can liberated from their masters. Nightly the streetlights flickered and the power went out. His flop overlooked an Armenian cemetery where the whores took the soldiers after the bars closed, their electric torches weaving between the crypts. The rain fell on the domes and bell towers and minarets, filling the ancient cisterns beneath the Old City, fell on Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives and the desert beyond, thunder cracking over the Dead Sea. The dankness reminded Brand of his grandmother's root cellar. As a boy he was afraid the door at the top of the rough stairs would swing closed of its own weight, the latch catching, leaving him in darkness. Now he imagined her hiding there, dirty-cheeked, surviving on jarred beets and horseradish, but of course she couldn't be. The house, the town, the entire country was gone.Sometimes in the night when his dreams and the lightning wouldn't let him sleep, he dressed and went down to his taxi, an old black Peugeot he kept buffed to a mirror-like shine, and drove through the Zion Gate checkpoint into the Old City, as if he were going to pick up a fare, to see the widow. Her name was Eva, but when Asher had recommended her, he called her The Widow as if it were a code name, and though Brand widower himself, he couldn't get it out of his head. She would always be another's, that dead love private, untouchable.How, after everything, was he still proud? There were worse things than second best.Eva, his new Juliet, his new Eve. From Vilna, the Jerusalem of the North, with an urbane scorn for backward Latvia. She was older than Brand by more than a decade, her eyes baggy, her jet hair threaded with gray. Before the war she'd been an actress known for her Nora and Lady Macbeth. She wished she had her clippings to show him. In the right light he could see she’d been striking once, the dark hair and sky-blue eyes, high cheekbones and generous lips, but at the corner of her mouth a deep scar had healed badly, the nerve severed so that one side drooped in an exaggerated frown, like the mask of tragedy. Like Brand, she hated the Russians and Germans equally, absolutely. She was a joke among their cell, a ruined woman, useful for one thing. When she drank, she railed against the world, calling all men pigs.“Not you," she said. "You're like me."How? he wanted to ask, but was afraid of the answer.When she cried after lovemaking or while they ate breakfast at her small table, he knew it was for her husband, whose name she wouldn't say. Brand had no money, and they'd come to a loose arrangement he soon regretted. He was forbidden to mention the word love, would be banished at the first hint of romance. She was not his, merely a comrade. She taught him Hebrew and English a phrase at a time, correcting his fledgling attempts with her perfect articulation, as if training him for the stage. In return, he chauffeured her to her assignations, waiting discreetly across the street, smoking and reading the paper, trying not to think of Katya, whose memory had sustained him in the camps and through the long, starry watches at sea. After Katya, whatever happened to him was nothing. The world was not the world.Tonight the Zion Gate was jammed, traffic backed up along the wall, the rain falling in long needles through a red fog of exhaust. The line was stopped. In the stark wash of floodlights shining down from the sandbagged ramparts, soldiers were going from car to car with dogs, opening doors, pulling people out. The police hadn't called curfew in weeks. There must have been an action, though the radio said nothing. He tried the underground station at the far end of the dial and got a blast of static.Ahead, a soldier with a tommy gun was frisking a gray-bearded Arab in full robes and headdress while a dog nosed about inside the car, a grave insult if the man were Moslem, dogs being unclean. It was quite possible the man was a Christian; many of them were. Brand, being a transplant, couldn't tell them apart. He was more concerned that the dog would muddy his seats, and wished he hadn't thrown away his paper. It was too late to turn around, and he shut off his engine to save gas.His papers were false, as was the Peugeot's registration, the car itself stolen from Tel Aviv, repainted and fitted with a smuggler's false-bottomed trunk. If taken in for questioning, Brand had no defense. He'd be detained as an illegal and a thief, interrogated, then jailed or deported, but all the times he'd been stopped, all the checkpoints he'd braved, the police had never challenged him. While his documents—like current life, he might say—were passable forgeries, his license, a metal badge attached to the front bumper, and much harder to come by, was real. And yet, having been arrested before—once, in Riga, sitting in his booth in his favorite coffee shop—he knew that as a Jew you were never safe.

Editorial Reviews

“Excellent . . .a little jewel, wonderfully sparse, moody and uneasy, reminiscent of the delicious, frayed-collar noir of le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. . .You can smell the squally desert wind that bends the cypress trees on the Jerusalem hills but never brings the rain. City of Secrets makes for great summer reading.” – Jason Matthews, The New York Times Book Review“Post-World War II Jerusalem is the provocative setting for Stewart O’Nan’s atmospheric thriller. . .a richly-imagined story. . .may be one of O’Nan’s best.  Its strength lies in his ability, as always, to take us inside the minds and souls of characters, real or imagined.” —The Chicago Tribune“Masterful. . .its impact is deceptively large because O’Nan has something that can’t be taught to a writer – and can indeed by unlearned by talented writers:  the gift of authenticity.” —The Washington Post “A fine piece of storytelling. . .a work in the exotic historic mode of Graham Greene, with the drier and grittier tone of Raymond Chandler. . .the moral struggle in City of Secrets is timeless and international.” —The Boston Globe   “Enthralling. . .O’Nan takes a clear-eyed and unsentimental look at an astonishing slice of history – one that is strikingly echoed by the heartbreaking events still unfolding in the Middle East.” —The Seattle Times“A fast-moving story that brings fresh perspective to a moment of historical significance . . . O’Nan’s storytelling, once again, demonstrates why he has earned a place among our most illustrious writers.”                                      —St. Louis Post Dispatch“A search for love and justice after the Holocaust. . . I’ll not soon forget Brand and his quest for something worth believing in. . . worth applauding, too, is Mr. O’Nan’s ability to realize a complex female character in Eva.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette“Stewart O’Nan’s City of Secrets will keep you up all night reading – what a beautifully crafted novel.” – Alan Furst, New York Times bestselling author of Mission to Paris   “Finely wrought and morally complex, O'Nan's considerable story-telling powers are masterfully deployed here.  With deft strokes, he evokes the tensions and tragedies of Mandate Jerusalem, riven then as now by the fault lines of community and conscience.” – Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord“I've been a Stewart O'Nan fan since his very first novel, and never more so than with his latest. In City of Secrets, O'Nan takes his mastery of language and depth of character in a fresh direction: a richly nuanced suspense novel, set in an immensely intriguing post-war Jerusalem. A remarkable book."  – Chris Pavone, author of The Expats“Imaginative and nimble, O’Nan is a master of narrative distillation, and in his latest taut novel, set in British-ruled Jerusalem immediately after WWII, he achieves thriller-like suspense. . .[an] engrossing portrait of an innocent caught in the web of history.”– ALA Booklist (starred)“A probing, keening thriller. . .though rigorously unsentimental, the text seethes with unresolved emotions. . .the complex moral issues it raises linger unsettlingly.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred)“A Conradian espionage thriller leavened with existential introspection. . .O’Nan’s novel works on several levels, but it is especially memorable as a story where the tortured emotions of its characters are indistinguishable from the turmoil of the chaotic events that overwhelm them.” – Publishers WeeklyFrom the Hardcover edition.