From the award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of Pumpkinflowers, the never-before-told story of the mysterious "Arab Section": the Jewish-"Arab" spies who, under deep cover in Beirut as refugees, helped the new State of Israel win the War of Independence.
In his third non-fiction book, Matti Friedman introduces us to four unknown young men who are caught up in the fraught events surrounding the birth of Israel in 1948 and drawn into secret lives, becoming the nucleus of Israel's intelligence service. The tiny, amateur unit known as the "Arab Section" was conceived during WWII by British spies and by Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Consisting of Jews from Arab countries who could pass as Arabs, it was meant to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations. When the first Jewish-Arab war erupted in 1948 and Palestinian refugees began fleeing the fighting, a small number of Section agents disguised as refugees joined the exodus. They fled to Beirut, where they spent the next two years under cover, sending messages back to Israel over a radio antenna disguised as a clothesline. Of the dozen men in the unit at the war's beginning, five were caught and executed.
Espionage, John le Carré once wrote, is the "secret theater of our society." Spies of No Country is not just a spy story, but a surprising window into the nature of Israel--a country that sees itself as belonging to the story of Europe, but where more than half of the population is native to the Middle East. Starring complicated characters with slippery identities moving in the shadow of great events, Spies of No Country tells a very different story about what Israel is and how it was created.
MATTI FRIEDMAN's 2016 book Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier's Story was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book and as one of Amazon's 10 Best Books of the Year. It was shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize and Writers' Trust Prize, and won the Canadian Jewish Literary Award and the Vine Award. Matti's first book, The Aleppo Codex, won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize, the ALA's Sophie Brody Medal, and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for History, and was translated into seven languages. Matti's work as a reporter has taken him from Israel to Lebanon, Morocco, Moscow, the Caucasus, and Washington, DC, and his writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. He is a former Associated Press correspondent and a regular contributor to Tablet Magazine and the Jewish Review of Books.
Praise for Matti Friedman and Pumpkinflowers:
"Friedman's sober and striking new memoir . . . [is] on a par with Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried—its Israeli analog." —New York Times Book Review
"A book about young men transformed by war, written by a veteran whose dazzling literary gifts gripped my attention from the first page to the last." —Wall Street Journal
"Destined to become a classic text on the absurdities of war. . . . A beautifully written account of a young Israeli soldier's experience. A stunning achievement." —Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and New York Times bestselling author of The Good Spy
"A compelling narrative, freighted with explosive geopolitical implications." —Booklist (starred review)
"The narrative is reminiscent of novels by Denis Johnson and Robert Stone. . . . A haunting yet wry tale of young people at war, cursed by political forces beyond their control, that can stand alongside the best narrative nonfiction coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq." —Kirkus (starred review)
"Friedman's experiences provide a critical historical perspective on the changing climate of war in the Middle East. . . . His lyrical writing, attention to detail, and personal honesty draw the reader into empathy along with understanding. Friedman's memoir deserves wide readership." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Iraq veterans finally have their book; a manuscript that really deals with the whole of the Iraq experience. . . . Matti Friedman has done a great service in helping Americans understand our own unpopular and ambiguous war by giving us the lens of Israel's unpopular and ambiguous war." —Library Journal (starred review)