A post–World War II thriller from an unusual perspective.
This debut novel, translated from the German, recounts the misadventures of Lilya Wasserfall as she pursues a dual mission across a shattered Europe. The story opens in Jerusalem, where Lilya, a member of an elevated Haganah combat unit and dedicated to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, receives her multiple assignments. First, she is to survey and assess the situation of the displaced populations, mostly Jewish, that have inundated Allied territories; in particular she must look out for opportunities to pressure the British to open Palestine to settlement. She is also asked to research the fate of a German Jewish scientist, Raphael Lind, whose death was reported by the British but whose brother, Elias, feels may still be alive. Lilya begins in England and is ambiguously aided by British officials: she’s assisted in traveling into Germany, but she also acquires Maj. Terry, who will tail her dutifully. By the time she has transport to the continent she has also uncovered reasons to keep searching for the scientist. She arrives in Bavaria and Camp Fohrenwald, a sprawling refugee camp under the administration of the attractive but enigmatic David Guggenheim. She learns several sharp lessons about the realities of postwar displaced populations, and in these places the novel is usefully informative. An informal appendix provides some of the sources of Abarbanell’s research. As Lilya becomes more involved in the displaced person issue, her search for the scientist also heats up, and at various points she finds herself in trouble. Populated with engaging secondary characters and providing a useful service, the novel has several merits. Overall, though, the plotting is a little simplistic, the intrigue surrounding Raphael Lind and the dangers posed to Lilya are not especially compelling, and in the end Lilya herself is a disappointment, neither as independent nor as fierce as one might hope, and her inevitable romance with Guggenheim diminishes her.
Well-intentioned and instructive but short of thrills.