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A Strange Death: Espionage, Betrayal And Vengeance In A Village In Old Palestine

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During World War I, the head of a British spy ring in a Jewish colony in Ottoman-ruled Palestine, the beautiful Sarah Aaronsohn, killed herself. When the ring was broken by the Turks, leaving behind a letter in which she asked to be avenged. Was she? And what did this have to do with the spectacle of four women who ran through the town, jeering and cursing the arrested spi During World War I, the head of a British spy ring in a Jewish colony in Ottoman-ruled Palestine, the beautiful Sarah Aaronsohn, killed herself. When the ring was broken by the Turks, leaving behind a letter in which she asked to be avenged. Was she? And what did this have to do with the spectacle of four women who ran through the town, jeering and cursing the arrested spies as though let loose from “an infernal world of Gorgons and Furies?” A Strange Death is the answer to this. But it is many other things, too. A tantalizing murder mystery. A lyrical evocation of an Israeli town in the 1970s and of its old farming population, the descendants of the colonists who founded it in 1882. The story of an American couple that romantically settled there and of what they found. And last but not least the question: Was there a path not taken from those days to ours that might have made all the difference?


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During World War I, the head of a British spy ring in a Jewish colony in Ottoman-ruled Palestine, the beautiful Sarah Aaronsohn, killed herself. When the ring was broken by the Turks, leaving behind a letter in which she asked to be avenged. Was she? And what did this have to do with the spectacle of four women who ran through the town, jeering and cursing the arrested spi During World War I, the head of a British spy ring in a Jewish colony in Ottoman-ruled Palestine, the beautiful Sarah Aaronsohn, killed herself. When the ring was broken by the Turks, leaving behind a letter in which she asked to be avenged. Was she? And what did this have to do with the spectacle of four women who ran through the town, jeering and cursing the arrested spies as though let loose from “an infernal world of Gorgons and Furies?” A Strange Death is the answer to this. But it is many other things, too. A tantalizing murder mystery. A lyrical evocation of an Israeli town in the 1970s and of its old farming population, the descendants of the colonists who founded it in 1882. The story of an American couple that romantically settled there and of what they found. And last but not least the question: Was there a path not taken from those days to ours that might have made all the difference?

30 review for A Strange Death: Espionage, Betrayal And Vengeance In A Village In Old Palestine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan C

    I forgot to review this. It was a hard book for me to rate/review as I have little knowledge of Israeli history. During WWI the Nili spy ring ran out of Zichron. Led by the beautiful/handsome Sarah Aronson. There were rats involved. They were squealed on, possibly by four women. After being tortured by the Turks she asked to go home to change her clothes - they let her go home. Apparently the entire town had heard her screams. Several women ran down the road laughing. While at home she had time to I forgot to review this. It was a hard book for me to rate/review as I have little knowledge of Israeli history. During WWI the Nili spy ring ran out of Zichron. Led by the beautiful/handsome Sarah Aronson. There were rats involved. They were squealed on, possibly by four women. After being tortured by the Turks she asked to go home to change her clothes - they let her go home. Apparently the entire town had heard her screams. Several women ran down the road laughing. While at home she had time to dash off a quick note, asking for vengeance. The strange death is about a woman supposed to be one of the rats - Perl Appelbaum. Hillel and his wife Marcia are looking for a new home in the countryside and come upon Zichron. Apparently they had been living in Jerusalem. There is a museum in town which tells the story of the settlement of this colony of villagers, mostly from Rumania in the late 19th century and sponsored by Baron Rothschild. It is his little fiefdom. Actually he sponsored a number of towns but this seems to be the only one that lasted. I loved the story of this town and the people who populate it. It was never really clear what year this takes place in. I guess just after Begin was elected. The author seems to have just as many friends happy with the election as are unhappy about it. So most of the people are really old and have long memories, those that aren't senile. But Hillel does say that they lived there for four years and were pushed into moving after Hillel was accused of stealing a sickle, which he insists he bought. He had been raiding abandoned houses. He "broke" into one to read old newspapers from 1921 (when Perl died) and was discovered coming out by Bad Ginger, a cop, who thinks he stole his sickle when he was in his barn. He threatens to come back with a search warrant. Hillel and Marcia take this as a clue to move. But he still hasn't nailed down the Perl Appelbaum story. Was it murder? Poison? Or was it encephalitis, as the doctor claimed?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katlyn

    This is a tough book to rate because it has equally frustrating and enjoyable parts. It's like my experience with Les Miserables or Moby Dick: the words are beautiful, but there are just too, too many. In the case of Moby Dick, the plot is slow. 'A Strange Death' is a bit slow at times, but every little anecdote or Arab proverb is delightful. Drenched in history and Jewish/Arab culture all along the way. I really liked seeing a window into old Israel/Palestine, especially considering the state of This is a tough book to rate because it has equally frustrating and enjoyable parts. It's like my experience with Les Miserables or Moby Dick: the words are beautiful, but there are just too, too many. In the case of Moby Dick, the plot is slow. 'A Strange Death' is a bit slow at times, but every little anecdote or Arab proverb is delightful. Drenched in history and Jewish/Arab culture all along the way. I really liked seeing a window into old Israel/Palestine, especially considering the state of the area today. The story is engrossing, but takes time to develop. All the Hebrew terms and cultural references can be a bit dizzying, but it gives you a thorough feel of the surroundings and characters. I'd say the story really starts to pick up in the second half of the book. But for the romantic (American) travelers in us all, we can't help but sympathize with and envy the main character and narrator who discovers the tale of the Nili. Added benefit: it's all true.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Evelyn

    Who would have thought that the seemingly sleepy village of Zichron Yaakov had so much intrigue in its recent history? Halkin, a resident (or is it former resident, not really clear on that) delves into the town's early to mid-20th century past in order to find out such things as: which town founders and/or their childer were actually spies; which ones were effective, which not; who were some of these spies actually working for; how did certain mysterious deaths actually occur. The concept is an Who would have thought that the seemingly sleepy village of Zichron Yaakov had so much intrigue in its recent history? Halkin, a resident (or is it former resident, not really clear on that) delves into the town's early to mid-20th century past in order to find out such things as: which town founders and/or their childer were actually spies; which ones were effective, which not; who were some of these spies actually working for; how did certain mysterious deaths actually occur. The concept is an interesting one, and Halkin manages to transmit some really interesting stories and facts to paint a vivid picture of life during Ottoman, then British rule. But his prose are uneven, sometimes descending into bad cliche, or really awkward simile. Still, overall I enjoyed the book and want to revisit Zichron, with map and book in hand to see what historical remnants remain of the town Halkin describes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michal

    Explains the viewpoints of the groups that didn't 'win' in the establishment of the state of Israel, and hence are invisible, under represented or denigrated by the writers of history that is the present, acceptable canon of the Jewish yishuv from 1880's to the creation of the state. Recommended. Explains the viewpoints of the groups that didn't 'win' in the establishment of the state of Israel, and hence are invisible, under represented or denigrated by the writers of history that is the present, acceptable canon of the Jewish yishuv from 1880's to the creation of the state. Recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amy Newman

    Genius.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jim Leffert

    If Woody Allen’s maxim that “Ninety percent of life is just showing up” were true, perhaps this book would be a masterpiece instead of a self-indulgent, meandering account of Halkin’s efforts to delve into the history of Zichron Yakov, his adopted home town in Israel. After immigrating to Israel with his wife in 1970, the U.S.-born Halkin, a writer and translator, settled in this sleepy little town south of Haifa. Zichron Yakov was one of the settlements in the first wave of Zionist immigration If Woody Allen’s maxim that “Ninety percent of life is just showing up” were true, perhaps this book would be a masterpiece instead of a self-indulgent, meandering account of Halkin’s efforts to delve into the history of Zichron Yakov, his adopted home town in Israel. After immigrating to Israel with his wife in 1970, the U.S.-born Halkin, a writer and translator, settled in this sleepy little town south of Haifa. Zichron Yakov was one of the settlements in the first wave of Zionist immigration to Israel in the late 1800’s. Halkin recounts his day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute conversations with a slew of old folks who grew up in the first two decades of the 20th century and forays poking around disheveled remains of old buildings. His goal: to shed light on the intrigues of this period, which includes the last years of Ottoman rule, World War I, which resulted in British conquest of Palestine, and the beginning of the British mandate. Foremost (but not alone) among these intrigues is the Nili spy ring, whose members passed military information on to the British, until the Turks caught them and executed several members. Halkin wonders who denounced the Nili spies to the Turks, particularly after he hears that four young women in the town jeered and cursed at one of the arrested spies. Amid Halkin’s efforts to schmooze his way to the truth of these murky affairs, he recounts a few wonderful stories about the Ottoman period, during which the Jewish settlers and neighboring Arab villagers mingled in a way that seems long gone (as are most of the villages). These stories, unfortunately, are like globs of tasty meat suspended in a larger bologna that feels suspiciously like fat. Halkin points out that whatever he learns from his informants may be just yarns that aren’t the real truth anyway. So, why bother?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I picked this book up second-hand as I thought it was a biography. It is, actually, an interesting tale of a particular town during the struggle for Israel independence. The story teller is someone who has moved to this town in recent years. It's quite fascinating from an historical perspective; but on occasion you get lost with the current versus the old tales. And, the author isn't too skilled at setting up the suspense: by the end of the book, I'd lost track of whose death it was I was suppos I picked this book up second-hand as I thought it was a biography. It is, actually, an interesting tale of a particular town during the struggle for Israel independence. The story teller is someone who has moved to this town in recent years. It's quite fascinating from an historical perspective; but on occasion you get lost with the current versus the old tales. And, the author isn't too skilled at setting up the suspense: by the end of the book, I'd lost track of whose death it was I was supposed to be interested in.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Seeing Suzie reading this reminded me about it...I read it before I joined Goodreads. I, too, wanted to like it, since it is set here in Zichron Ya'akov and because I love history, especially history of the yishuv. But I really didn't enjoy it. I didn't care for the writing style, the jumping back and forth from the present to the past didn't do anything for me, and if I hadn't had been enjoying the fact that it was about my adopted home town, I wouldn't have liked anything about it. Seeing Suzie reading this reminded me about it...I read it before I joined Goodreads. I, too, wanted to like it, since it is set here in Zichron Ya'akov and because I love history, especially history of the yishuv. But I really didn't enjoy it. I didn't care for the writing style, the jumping back and forth from the present to the past didn't do anything for me, and if I hadn't had been enjoying the fact that it was about my adopted home town, I wouldn't have liked anything about it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Stern Kedem

    Haven't met the author yet but plan to. I loved the stories he retells which took place in Zichron Yaakov and neighboring Shfeyah in Israel where I live. Halkin's vivid descriptions of the places and the people who lived in this part of the country during the early part of the 21th century and the 70s when he came to Zichron are still recognizable today in the landscapes and in the quirky nature of the descendants of the characters in the story. Haven't met the author yet but plan to. I loved the stories he retells which took place in Zichron Yaakov and neighboring Shfeyah in Israel where I live. Halkin's vivid descriptions of the places and the people who lived in this part of the country during the early part of the 21th century and the 70s when he came to Zichron are still recognizable today in the landscapes and in the quirky nature of the descendants of the characters in the story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides

    This sort of read like L.M. Montgomery, of all things - there was a nigh-overwhelming proportion of local trivia. I'd rather not read something I feel like I have to wade through, just at the moment. This sort of read like L.M. Montgomery, of all things - there was a nigh-overwhelming proportion of local trivia. I'd rather not read something I feel like I have to wade through, just at the moment.

  11. 5 out of 5

    AppleJuice

    I really want to like this book, but just 30 pages in and I hate his descriptive writing. Since this is the history of my chosen home, I'm going to keep reading. He better improve. Nope. He didn't I really want to like this book, but just 30 pages in and I hate his descriptive writing. Since this is the history of my chosen home, I'm going to keep reading. He better improve. Nope. He didn't

  12. 5 out of 5

    Doris Cook

    A bit of history that reads as if it were fiction!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mindy

    enjoyed on many levels

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  15. 5 out of 5

    BillyPilgrim

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  17. 5 out of 5

    Penina

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pat Callahan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ellyce

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

  21. 5 out of 5

    M.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Hummel

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  26. 5 out of 5

    debra Adams

  27. 4 out of 5

    Judy Chessin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Philippa Allatt

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  30. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Keane

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