Canadian-born and California-raised Cohen describes his work with the Israeli group Sayeret Duvdevan in this you-are-there debut memoir.
The author went on his first mission as a member of this elite counterterrorism unit in March 1996. The investigation of an explosion at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Mall was the first of many bloody crime scenes (“battlefield scenes,” he calls them) Cohen had to deal with, but that was the life he chose when he moved to Israel to protect his people. He brings us into the shadowy world of Sayeret Duvdevan, offering details of his missions and his training, throwing in some contemporary and historical context, introducing us to his comrades-in-arms and delivering numerous gory anecdotes. At times Cohen comes off as stridently militant. “I recognize that what I’ve written here may sound unduly harsh, pro-militaristic, even anti-Arab in places,” he writes in an epilogue, “but I am writing this not as a propagandist but as a pragmatist.” This acknowledgement doesn’t make his attitude any less jarring, though it’s obviously hard to be objective in such violently graphic descriptions: slipping in a pool of blood at the scene of a suicide bombing, looking at a soldier who’s had one leg blown off and will probably bleed to death before medical help arrives. Cohen’s book contains an inherent contradiction. He paints himself as a lover of his God, his family and his country, an idealist who wants to do the right thing, but he displays throughout a streak of fanaticism that is clearly a prerequisite for membership in the Sayeret Duvdevan. Readers in less-extreme circumstances may find his attitude difficult to appreciate.
Relentlessly bleak and extremely depressing.