The Unwitting: A Novel
A novel of a marriage and a country betrayed.
In the 1950s and 60s, as Russia and the free world battle each other with words as weapons in what was known as the Cultural Cold War, Charlie and Nell Benjamin, a magazine publisher and a writer, are in the thick of it. But when tragedy strikes, Nell discovers that her marriage was not what it seemed and betrayal can wear many masks. The Unwitting is a tale of the stories we tell others, the lies we tell ourselves, and the moral compass we use to navigate the distance between.
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Bold and original… moral and political… Feldman gently explores the lure of complicity…questions the little deceptions and omissions that are the necessary glue of a life shared with someone else,…[and] manages to breathe immediacy into [the] decades … the originality of voice and thought [is] evident on every page… part love story, part mystery and part political thriller I would heartily recommend
Ellah Allfrey, All Things Considered, NPR
A compelling writer… the novel is brilliant on the cruelty of grief… to her credit, Feldman steers clear of attributing modern, liberal views on feminism or race to this credible woman of the Fifties and Sixties…for a writer this bold and dexterous, this is fertile ground… [reminiscent] of early Margaret Drabble…poignant.
—Katy Guest, The Independent, UK
Vibrant, sassy, informative, a page-turner, absorbing, and swift… the narrator’s voice is snappish, confident, argumentative, literate. I fell for it from the beginning…Feldman produces beautiful turns of phrase…male readers [too] will appreciate the research that went into it [and]… be fascinated by its bold and thorough review of the American 20th century.
—Kelly Cherry, L.A. Review of Books
“Gripping…a deep and disarming book about politics, human relationships, and love…meticulously researched…skillfully drawn.”
A precise intelligent quandary-based novel…The characters are smart, the story’s about marriage and other relationships but, more than that, it’s about morality and ethics and what people do when their beliefs clash…Feldman integrated real events smoothly, including McCarthyism, the death of JFK, protest and peace marches, even the price of apartments in Manhattan. Words are powerful, and journalistic integrity matters. In this clever novel, good and bad mingle in ambiguous and unexpected ways.
An engrossing book…beautifully described, evoking a very real feeling of Cold War uncertainty and discomfort…the reader is drawn to the narrator, who seems so real and admirable…the story grips to the end and leaves you with much to consider.
—Rupert Godsal, Country Life, UK
Guggenheim Fellow, Ellen Feldman, wows us with her fifth novel… There is a lot going on in The Unwitting. In some ways it is a stylish portrait of love and marriage. In another it reveals an America in the throes of horrible change… Compelling enough to take its place with the best of crime fiction, Feldman’s language is loving, bright and sharp while her storytelling abilities are unquestionable. The Unwitting cuts us into an interesting time, then ramps things up… Feldman is clearly a writer who is going places, The Unwitting brings that home: it’s a terrific book.
—Sienna Powers, January Magazine, UK
A page turner…Feldman is an easy, confident writer.
A blend of cool, intelligent writing and breakneck pace…a cracking Cold War thriller, but also the story of a marriage…heaven…my highest praise.
—Saga Magazine, U.K.
“In CIA parlance, those who knew were ‘witting.’ Everyone else was among the ‘unwitting’” …That sentence makes Feldman’s book sound a lot like the current television show “The Blacklist.” But Feldman’s finesse with both moral and emotional ambiguity makes her book a lot more like Thomas Mallon’s Fellow Travelers than anything tube-based.”
—Bethanne Pattrick’s Top ten books of May, 2014, The Washingtonian
“Brilliantly written…fascinating…a chilling account of journalists’ lives…Feldman’s sincere description makes Nell and Charlie’s relationship familiar and relatable to the reader, which makes the ensuring events even more heartbreaking…compelling storytelling.”
“The Cold War serves as a fascinating backdrop for this story about Nell and Charlie’s marriage, but their marriage also serves as a compelling example of its time…One of the things I so love about Feldman’s novels is her ability to create strong female characters who are not anachronistic…Yet as much as this novel is the story of ….[a] marriage, it’s even more the story of Nell and how she became the woman she is…filled with compelling characters navigating difficult events…Feldman once again uses history to enhance the characters as much as she uses the characters to enhance the history. The result is a fully realized portrait of both one marriage and its time and place.”
Tautly written…a splendid, page-turning book, exploring the territory of the Cold War as seen through the prism of one marriage…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… full of absolutely believable twists and turns…I recommend it very highly.
—Lady Fancifull, Literary Fiction, U.K.
“The Unwitting completely absorbed me. The weaving of the public and the personal is exceptional – the way the questions of truth-telling, and silence, and secrets are allowed their full complexity and also their occasional simplicity, some evils, like political persecution, being pure evil. Emotionally keen, intellectually challenging, it’s a book to read – and then read again.”
—Robin Black, author of Life Drawing
“An absolute joy to read. Hooked from the first line of the first page, I could not put this book down and was sorry when I finished it…a story about truth and love, but not a “love story”; a story of human nature, intrigue and betrayal…the characters are well-defined and believable, the plot has unexpected twists and turns, the writing is sublime, sprinkled with wry humor, well-paced, full of tension – I’m sure when I read it again in a couple of years I will probably find something new in it. A book to make you think long after you’ve finished it, which for me, is the mark of a really good piece of writing…This is not a book to be rushed – savor it, enjoy each word.”
—The Amazon UK Vine Program
“The Unwitting compelled me from the first page and through every unexpected twist and turn. This look into the dark places in human nature cries out to be read, re-read, and discussed. Unforgettable.“
—Lynn Cullen author of National Bestseller Mrs. Poe
“A story of love and intrigue during the Cold War, The Unwitting plumbs not only the secrets of spies, but those of the human heart. Moving, witty, and thoroughly intelligent, it is an absorbing and deeply satisfying read.”
—Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd
“Compelling and poignant… Not only is the writing atmospheric and subtle, it has great psychological tension.”
—Nigel Farndale, author of the acclaimed, Costa-shortlisted novel The Blasphemer
“Ellen Feldman’s masterful, unforgettable portrayal of a marriage during the Cold War evokes the era in beautiful but charged prose. The paranoia of the times crackles on the page as secrets are kept and Nell Benjamin, the narrator, is unwittingly caught in moral quandaries of the 1950’s. A captivating work of storytelling that will keep you up late at night, The Unwitting is a timely, must-read novel that reminds us the past continues to haunt. “
—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel DuPree
“Through the lens of a passionate, complex marriage Ellen Feldman brings the Cold War back to life. The Unwitting is a wise and irresistible portrait of fascinating people in a tumultuous time.”
—Roger Straus III, Former Managing Director of Farrar, Straus & Giroux
I read The Unwitting twice. The first time I read it for the story…The second time around I caught things I had missed the first time like subtle phrases describing what was to come, like the narrator was letting you in on a secret… A great novel…
—The Sunshine Grove Blog
Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of the Unwitting, Next to Love, Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the UK’s prestigious Orange Prize, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, which was translated into nine languages, and Lucy. Her new novel, The Unwitting will be available May 6, 2014, in hardcover, e-book, and audio editions.