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Whittemore on espionage

A couple of quotes for Jere. First, about history:

Well, it was simple enough, he thought now. Anna was often on his mind these days because of Assaf. And so in the desert this morning his memory had abruptly tumbled back through the years to Stern, all the way back to Egypt and the Monastery where it had actually begun for Anna and him, although neither of them had known then that it was a beginning, so long ago in Cairo.

Stern… Anna… secret histories.

I suppose we all have them tucked away inside somewhere, thought Bell, these precious and secret events with their secret beginnings. Understanding as little as we do, we always seem to be connected to others in ways we never suspect, in a sweep of time we can’t fathom, in moments we’re only able to recognize years later. As if for each of us the important things in life become but one single story in the end, one beautiful secret dream we grasp too late.

And about the inevitable effects of undercover work:

As for the Runner, he was simply trying to survive in his innermost being, and what surprised him most was how remote his old self now seemed. He found himself recalling Yossi as he might recall a childhood friend. He knew every detail about the life of this other person, but it was all a memory from another world. Yossi’s hopes, Yossi’s fears… they were simply no longer his. Halim understood disguises, and the lean new face he saw in the mirror, with its deep-set eyes and white hair, meant little to him. It was the inner changes that astonished him as Yossi slipped away into the past.

The steps of survival were always so small, it seemed to the Runner. Yet how vast was the sad finality of these changes he was witnessing.

About history again:

Years ago in front of the fire in the great central room of his house, during the second winter of the Lebanese civil war, he had listened sadly, helplessly, to the outpourings of Ziad’s heart and watched the shadows of Ziad’s terror loom on the far walls of the room like some primitive dance of death in a cave on the edge of the underworld. He had felt very close to Ziad then, so close he had wondered whether he might be in danger of confusing Ziad’s destiny with his own.

Yes, well, his friend had given him many things over the years, far more than he ever knew. And wasn’t it strange how all of this had ineluctably come to pass for the Runner? Even with the most careful planning and all the will in the world, there never seemed a way to know which little moment from the past would mysteriously blossom into a man’s inevitable, entire future.

When did it begin, I wonder?

But when did what begin? Which part of the intricate scheme of things? The sordid nightmare of life which was Lebanon? His complex feelings for Ziad? A man’s estrangement from his country and culture?

And that was just it. For years he hadn’t had time to ask himself that sort of question, which a recluse like Bell pondered day in and day out. Yet once there had been long leisurely hours when he and Bell had explored it together in the ruins of the Omayyad palace in Jericho, sitting beside the magnificent mosaic of the pomegranate tree with its three gazelles and the lion.

Before the Six Day War. Yes, Halim remembered those times very well.

Edward Whittemore was a CIA field agent after World War II; in the 70s and 80s he wrote the Jerusalem Quartet, four novels about the Middle East. At first, they’re magic realism, but by the end they’re almost pure espionage. The final novel — Jericho Mosiac, from whence the above quotes originate — is a fictionalized account of Eli Cohen’s espionage career. As a whole, the Quartet is a superb depiction of the Middle East.

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