The incredible never-before-told story of Leonard Cohen's 1973 tour of Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
"Who by Fire is a stunning resurrection of a moment in the life of Leonard Cohen and the history of Israel. It’s the story of a young artist in crisis and a young country at war, and the powerful resonance of the chord struck between them. A beautiful, haunting book full of feeling." —Nicole Krauss, author of To Be a Man
In October, 1973, the poet and singer Leonard Cohen – 39 years old, famous, unhappy, and at a creative dead end – traveled to the Sinai desert and inserted himself into the chaos and bloodshed of the Yom Kippur War. Moving around the front with a guitar and a pick-up team of local musicians, Cohen dived headlong into the midst of a global crisis and met hundreds of fighting men and women at the worst moment of their lives. His audiences heard him knowing it might be the last thing they heard, and those who survived never forgot what they heard.
Cohen’s war tour was an electric cultural moment, one that still echoes today, and one that inspired some of his greatest songs – but a moment that only few knew about, until now. In Who By Fire, Canadian-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman gives us a riveting account of what happened during those weeks in Israel in October, 1973. With access to amazing and never-before-seen material written by Cohen himself, along with dozens of interviews and rare photographs, Friedman revives this fraught and stunning time, presenting an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the artist, and of the young people who heard him sing in the midst of combat.
Who By Fire brings us close to one the greatest, most brilliant and charismatic voices of our times, and gives us a rare glimpse of war, faith, and belonging.
About the author
Matti Friedman’s 2016 book Pumpkinflowers was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book and as one of Amazon’s 10 Best Books of the Year. It was selected as one of the year’s best by Booklist, Mother Jones, Foreign Affairs, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail. It also won the Vine Award in Canada. 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. Friedman’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 Atlantic, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. A former Associated Press correspondent, Friedman is a regular contributor to Tablet Magazine and the Jewish Review of Books. He grew up in Toronto and now lives with his family in Jerusalem.
“A fascinating and intense account of Leonard Cohen’s time in Israel during the 19-day Yom Kippur War of 1973. A must for any Leonard Cohen completist, with excerpts from his unpublished manuscripts from that time. Soulful and thoughtfully done.”—Suzanne Vega
“WHO BY FIRE is a stunning resurrection of a moment in the life of Leonard Cohen and the history of Israel. It’s the story of a young artist in crisis and a young country at war, and the powerful resonance of the chord struck between them. A beautiful, haunting book.” —Nicole Krauss
“A short, symphonic book of remarkable stories of yearning, love, and war, whose leitmotif is a haunted artist bearing secret chords that enchant the world.” —Rabbi David Wolpe
“Matti Friedman excels at finding the great significance in forgotten things: forgotten manuscripts, forgotten wars, forgotten spies. In this account of Leonard Cohen’s forgotten concert tour during the Yom Kippur War, not only is a hidden side of Cohen revealed but so too a hidden side of Israel. WHO BY FIRE is a book about the change that happens when you come through the flames.” —David Bezmozgis
"Friedman illuminates in this fascinating tale an extraordinary chapter in the career of singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) that left a lasting impact on the state of Israel. … This demonstration of the power of song will stun fans of the legendary artist.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Compelling …. Cohen fans will savor this little-known footnote in the singer’s life.” —Kirkus Reviews