Braginsky’s hefty debut novel, part spy thriller and part historical saga, follows an unlikely hero as he transforms from a Red Army intelligence officer to a defender of the Jewish people.
In the summer of 1945, in Soviet-occupied Poland, residents of a former Nazi concentration camp now face the possibility of survival. Red Army officer Aaron Goldstein comes to the camp to investigate the death of a senior Soviet official and is shocked to find his long-lost brother David, a rabbi and the camp’s acting spiritual leader. Meanwhile, Aaron’s sister Naomi is part of a secret operation to help recruit soldiers into the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah in Palestine. Soon it becomes clear that the Soviets’ plans—to stir up war in the Middle East, take control of the region’s oil and spread communism—may not be congruent with the Jews’ desire to establish a homeland. Aaron begins to use his knowledge of Soviet operatives to benefit the Haganah, and he manipulates the flow of information to and from his superior, Solomon. In the end, Aaron becomes a commander in the new Jewish state. The novel is weighed down by too much detail and some overdetermined plot twists, and readers may find its many shifts in point of view and setting distracting. The book also tends to gloss over the emotional implications of some of its events. That said, the novel intriguingly features historical figures such as Soviet leader Josef Stalin and Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as characters, and it depicts compelling historical complexities throughout.
An ambitious but uneven debut.