In his new book Hillel Halkin brings his wonderful storytelling abilities to another fascinating place and time, the village of Zichron in Palestine in 1917. What everyone in the village agrees is that four members of an anti-Ottoman spy ring were betrayed and subsequently killed, one by her own hand to avoid torture. At the time it was recounted that four of the women in the village were each seen laughing and jeering the night of the betrayal, and that each subsequently died an unnatural death. But was it true? And if so, what connection was there between the women and the spy ring? Halkin scours the artifacts of the village, its ruined homes and ancient residents to piece together the events of nearly 90 years earlier which to this day are the defining legend of the town. Against a backdrop of cypress trees and vine-covered mountains, limestone cliffs and collapsing barns, a hilltop village seemingly of the Languedoc or Provence nestled among vineyards and olive trees, Halkin tells a tale not of the Western Mediterranean, full of blithe romance, but of its Eastern shore. For this is Palestine, and nothing is quite as it seems.
Halkin pursues the story of espionage and British gold, of betrayal and deception, of supernatural retribution, of Jews and Arabs living alongside one another in the first half of the twentieth century. It's a journey into the past that shows an alternate future that might have been. It is also, for Halkin, a journey to discover once and for all the story of his home.
Hillel Halkin lives in Zichron, Israel. He is a distinguished translator, critic and journalist, whose work appears regularly in English and Hebrew, often in Commentary and the Forward magazine.