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Politics, like love, can be a dirty game

the-unwitting-978144722314601Ellen Feldman’s tautly written, reflective book set in post-war America is a splendid, page-turning book, exploring the territory of the Cold War, rife with darkness and suspicion from both sides of the ideological divide, as seen through the prism of one marriage.

Nell and Charlie Benjamin, at the start of this novel, set on the day of Kennedy’s assassination, are a couple who have it all. She is a journalist, he is the publisher of a respected liberal left leaning magazine. Both of them have secrets. Some of these are in the field of their personal relationship, some of them are where individual and state connect, particularly at a time when there were real battles for hearts and minds going on between ideologies which were carving up the world.

Both America and Russia at that time were claiming some sort of higher moral ground; both had far less moral ways of seeking to exert control.

Feldman expertly weaves her way through a period in American history from 1948 to 1971, exploring attitudes to race, sexual politics, and lifting the lid on the difference the myth and the reality between public face and behind closed doors.

Singer Moses LaMarr singing spirituals to children in Gorky Park, Leningrad, Russia in December 1955 - American Theatre Troupe Production of Porgy and Bess, tour to Moscow and Leningrad,

Singer Moses LaMarr singing spirituals to children in Gorky Park, Leningrad, Russia in December 1955 – American Theatre Troupe Production of Porgy and Bess, tour to Moscow and Leningrad,

Just when the central character, Nell, has a handle on ‘what is right’…she gets presented with nuance and ambiguity again and again.

This is a pacy, fascinating read, heroes have feet of clay, the corrupt have surprising integrity. The reader, like the central character, is forced to interpret and reinterpret a life and events, backwards. What happens now, what we know now, may force us to reinterpret what we thought we knew then.

This is a book full of absolutely believable twists and turns. Nell and Charlie are fictional, but the stage on which Feldman sets them, and the manipulations that went on to control that stage, were not

I was past the point in life when I believed people were of a piece. I had learned to live with ambiguity. If you can’t you have no business falling in love

The title of the book refers to unwitting, because unknowing, collusion in what goes on; however, the unwitting might have asked the questions which were staring them in the face. Sometimes innocence looks like an unwillingness to face the unpalatable

This is in some ways, a difficult book to review, because to explain much of the ‘about’ is to spoil the reader’s own journey.

I recommend this very highly, and will read more of Feldman’s work

The book reminded me, in some ways, of Sebastian Faulks’ similar time-set On Green Dolphin Streetfeldman_ellen._V149142357_, but also, a more recent, factual read, the excellent A Spy Among Friends, Ben MacIntyre’s account of post-war politics amidst the cold war, and how Britain, America and Russia accommodated themselves, losing and gaining power and ideological empire

I received this as a review copy from Amazon Vine UK

The Unwitting Amazon UK
The Unwitting Amazon USA

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