Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Published by
Algonquin (2019-03-05)
Current material
Cat Copy/Info Sheet
Original language
Politics & government


Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

by Friedman, Matti

Award-winning writer Matti Friedman's tale of Israel's first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff - but it's all true.

The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Intended to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations, the unit consisted of Jews who were native to the Arab world and could thus easily assume Arab identities. In 1948, with Israel's existence in the balance during the War of Independence, our spies went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a kiosk, collecting intelligence, and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. While performing their dangerous work these men were often unsure to whom they were reporting, and sometimes even who they'd become. Of the dozen spies in the Arab Section at the war's outbreak, five were caught and executed. But in the end the Arab Section would emerge, improbably, as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel's vaunted intelligence agency.

Spies of No Country is about the slippery identities of these young spies, but it's also about Israel's own complicated and fascinating identity. Israel sees itself and presents itself as a Western nation, when in fact more than half the country has Middle Eastern roots and traditions, like the spies of this story. And, according to Friedman, that goes a long way toward explaining the life and politics of the country, and why it often baffles the West. For anyone interested in real-life spies and the paradoxes of the Middle East, Spies of No Country is an intimate story with global significance.

Matti 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 Washington Post, and elsewhere. He is a former Associated Press correspondent and a regular contributor to Tablet Magazine. And, as of December 9th, Friedman has been appointed Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times. He was born in Toronto and lives in Jerusalem with his family.

Available rights (1)

Language Territory Type Vendor Status
German World All

Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Sebastian Ritscher

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As of December 9th, Friedman has been appointed Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times.

Quote: Harris Agency

A compelling, compulsively readable, and gripping spy story. Matti Friedman is a lyrical writer and a master of suspenseful storytelling.

Quote: Franklin Foer, author of World Without Mind

By focusing on the trajectory of four apprentice spies from Haifa to Beirut the American journalist Matti Friedman revives the dark and glorious hours of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It's not possible to understand today's Israel without putting the Jews of Muslim countries at the centre of history. That's what Friedman does. Rigorously. Brilliantly.

Review: Livres Hebdo

An exquisite account of a thrilling and all-but-forgotten story of the origins of the Israeli spy system. Friedman proves that he is one of the essential interpreters of Israel writing today.

Quote: Yossi Klein Halevi, NYT bs author of Letters to My Palestininian Neighbour

This book sure looks like a rollicking spy story. It's got all the necessary parts: a high-stakes war for a new state's existence, double identities, suspense, betrayal. But it's more than that. This is a book about being an outsider many times over. Justice demanded that [these spies'] stories be told. We're lucky that a writer as gifted as Matti Friedman came along to tell them.

Quote: Judith Shulevitz, New York Times op-ed contributor and author The Sabbath World

Spies of No Country is thrilling, moving, and, like everything that Matti Friedman writes, deeply humane.

Quote: Nicole Krauss, author of Forest Dark

CAN: Signal/McLelland & Stewart (Random House) ; Czech: Vysehrad Albatross ; France: Editions Liana Levi ; Hungary: Gabo ; Israel: Kinneret ; Italy: Guintina ; Romania: RAO

Quote: Deborah Harris Agency

... absolutely arresting account of espionage at the genesis of the Israeli state ...

Review: Booklist, starred review

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