Saturday, December 18, 2010


When I entered the Hebrew University in Jerusalem at age twenty (after two years of military service,) my new roommate’s boyfriend had a close friend, Amiram. Connected via our respective roommates, Amiram and I often hung out together. He was very intelligent, multi-faceted, and surprisingly erudite. He was interested in politics, philosophy and literature. He was not yet eighteen, yet was like no seventeen-year old I had ever met. However, I had a boyfriend since high school, who now lived across the street. With the age difference--I was over two years older than Amiram--no romantic relationship hung between us.

As Amiram was awaiting his Israel Defense Force service some months later, he registered for classes at the university, and we found ourselves engaged in long, thought-provoking conversations. He never seemed ill-at-ease in a university where the youngest male students were twenty-one, having finished a three-year service at the IDF. Soon, Amiram became the assistant editor of the school newspaper, and I even submitted to him the only Hebrew poem I had ever written (which he tactfully rejected.)

Some time in the second semester he was drafted; by then, my roommate was no longer dating his friend. In the coming years I happened to glimpse Amiram visiting the campus in his officer's uniform.

Years later, on one of my visits to Israel, I bumped into him at a country club. We were both married and had two children each. We chatted for a while, and I couldn’t help but notice his glass eye. “What happened?” I asked, and he mentioned that he’d lost an eye. I believed it must have happened during a military action, not uncommon in Israel….

In the late 80s, at an event, a friend pointed a woman to me. "This is Amiram Nir's widow. Did you ever meet him at the university?"

Shocked, I asked, "What happened?" and was saddened to learn that he had been killed in a small airplane crash somewhere in South America. Amiram’s was the second accident I’d heard of in which an Israeli was the victim of a plane crash in that continent. My friend had no further details, and I shared no mutual acquaintances with Amiram or his widow. But the tragedy of the untimely death of a highly talented man--and a young father--stayed with me.

When I began writing my 5th novel, Shadow Bride, I was plagued by questions that had simmered in me all those years. What if the plane had downed in the Amazon or such huge area where it couldn’t be found? What happened to the family in the aftermath of the dramatic death? What if Amiram had survived?

I wanted to write a domestic drama, to stay close to home, to focus on the lives of those left behind. Unlike the huge canvases that had been the backdrops for my previous novels—Russia after the fall of communism, the U.S. justice system, U.S-Sino relationship, Jerusalem and God—this story was to be confined to a small universe. Yet my imagination ran wild. My protagonist, Laurie, had been unaware that her young husband, Danny, had actually worked for the Mossad until his plane went down, leaving no traces. But wait. For plot reasons, Danny had to be a U.S. citizen, or at least work for the CIA. How could that be possible? Anyway, what would either country be doing in South America where my Danny had disappeared? And if this wasn’t complicated enough, Iranian neighbors were weaving their way into the fabric of the family….

What was I doing? Shadow Bride was supposed to be a small story about a family focused on itself and its complex dynamics after the loss of a central member. Domestic. Home. Family. “Stay small,” I told myself.

I am not an action-thriller writer. I do not read mysteries or spy novels. I write psychological dramas. I love literary nuances. I am interested in the human spirit as it arises above political systems, social pressures, economic catastrophes, or religious oppression. My interest in Danny’s background story was for plausibility sake; an author should know the characters’ circumstances, but most of the political/ military machinations were to remain out of sight, with an occasional detail just breaking through if absolutely necessary.

I got stuck. Not in a “writer’s block,” but in a “plot block.” Even if Danny’s clandestine activities were not the center of the story, a background covering Israel, Iran, U.S. and some South American nation had to be credible, but it made no sense. Yet, I was unable to back-paddle and get rid of this plot.

To learn something of South American nations, I cornered a friend at a party, an Israeli man whose cosmopolitan upbringing reminded me of my fictional Danny’s. As we chatted, I mentioned the problem I was having with this insane plot in which my protagonist’s husband had been involved before his death.

“Are you talking about Amiram Nir?” my friend asked me.

“What?” I felt the hairs stand on my arms. “Did you know him?”

My friend laughed. “Who hasn’t heard of the Iran-Contra affair? He was the key guy!”

Back home, my heart pounding at the enormity of what I was to uncover, I Googled Amiram. To my astonishment, the fictional plot I had woven fitted right into the outline of the Iran-Contra affair, a plot in which the US used Israel to sell arms to Iran and to siphon the profits to rebels in Nicaragua.

Most astonishing was the fact that the young Amiram I had known--and after whom I modeled the disappearance of my Danny--was the man who ran that operation. He was the point man of Oliver North. He was the guy dealing with both the Iranians and the Nicaraguans, getting his orders directly from both presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush!

It is believed that the CIA killed him.

I am spooked!