The English Teacher, a novel published in 2016, features Rachel Goldschmitt, a retired Mossad agent who has just found out her father has died, yet she seems to be more focused on the failure of the relationship the two actually had. Mossad is the spy agency Rachel worked for.She ends up disappearing, and Mossad becomes fearful and suspicious of Rachel’s unstableness so they assign Ehud, Rachel’s former handler, to go track her down. Before she disappears Rachel leaves a cryptic phone message for Ehud which sparks the suspicion in her behavior. Ehud and Joe, another retired agent, begin to the pursuit for Rachel together, and along the journey Ehud, who was once in love with Rachel, tells Joe all about her. Throughout the rest of the novel you uncover a lot about the double life Rachel lived, being an English teacher by day and spy by night. You’ll read of a lot of flashbacks about Rachel and her time spent as a spy and you’ll also see the perspective of Rachel as her being seen as just living the life of boring old English teacher.
Yiftach Reicher Atir was born in 1949 in the south of Israel. The English Teacher is his third novel. Atir was actually a former head of the army’s special ops directorate, so he has experience with this sort of thing. The novel is not an autobiography, but it does feature realistic missions and real life operatives, so it’s loosely based on facts. That’s exactly what was in Atir’s intentions when he wrote this book; in this novel he didn’t want to focus on the outstanding technology or fish-tailing plot of the present day perspective of espionage, rather he wanted to focus more on the soul of the spy and all the difficulties and aspects that come along with it. Read more of Atir’s realistic intentions here.²
“This is a true story that didn’t really happen,”-Yiftach Reicher Atir
“a true story, of real life operatives that are wholly made up, and actual missions that never happened.”-Yiftach Reicher Atir
This espionage thriller provides a look at Middle Eastern spycraft. Unlike the traditional mystery, the entire plot is centered around a woman, where in past detective stories there’s always the main male protagonist who is featured. Rachel is kind of built up to be very damaged as the story goes on to reveal the loneliness of being a spy. Ultimately Rachel’s double life comes across as very sad, which causes the reader to try and sympathize with her.By giving a more realistic view upon how a spy’s life really is, you sympathize because you see the hardships they face and the sacrifices they make. The novel also features love; there’s romance involved whether it’s with Ehud and his secret love for Rachel, or Rachel and Rashid, her lover. In this way, Rachel kind of relates to Kinsey Millhone; she has a love interest and shows emotion and it ends up being one of her weaknesses.
I believe the element of the novel that causes the book to become a boring and slow paced read would be the point of view it contains. The point of view switches back and forth between Rachel and her missions and Ehud, who also narrates Rachel’s story. Most of the novel follows Ehud and Joe during their investigation. Their dialogue kind of mixes their personal and professional lives together. The realistic and vivid details of the operative’s life is quite interesting, but the way in which Atir presents through his is not¹. Ehud and Rachel’s voice during the narration is very monotone and it never really changes which just downplayed the thriller aspect to me.
I do thoroughly enjoy how Atir made this such a realistic take on the life of a spy and the truth behind their struggles, but the monotone voices of the characters really made the novel become a drag to me. If you’re looking for a novel to really put you in the shoes of a spy, read this book, but make sure you’re ready to face the tedious point of views that lie ahead of you. It may seem as though the book is a boring read, but it’s not; I definitely enjoyed the extensive plot on the modern day spy and I believe you will too. I’d rate this book a 7 out of 10.
1.Lipez, Richard. “A Spy Tale so Real That Israel Censored It: ‘The English Teacher’ by Yiftach Atir.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Aug. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/from-an-israeli-intelligence-officer-a-thriller-so-real-some-details-were-censored/2016/08/12/b106cfae-5f19-11e6-af8e-54aa2e849447_story.html?utm_term=.961dc1be13d8.
2.Ginsburg, Mitch, et al. “A True Mossad Spy Story That Didn’t Really Happen.” The Times of Israel, www.timesofisrael.com/a-true-mossad-spy-story-that-didnt-really-happen/.