New York City, 1962. Vera Kelly is struggling to make rent and blend into the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village. She's working night shifts at a radio station when her quick wits, sharp tongue, and technical skills get her noticed by a recruiter for the CIA.
Next thing she knows she's in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires. As Vera becomes more and more enmeshed with the young radicals, the fragile local government begins to split at the seams. When a betrayal leaves her stranded in the wake of a coup, Vera learns war makes for strange and unexpected bedfellows, and she's forced to take extreme measures to save herself.
An exhilarating page turner and perceptive coming-of-age story, WHO IS VERA KELLY? introduces an original, wry and whip-smart female spy for the twenty-first century.
Ooooh, this was good. Part spy thriller, part character study, and part historical fiction.
This book is told through a delicate interweaving of past and present. The past chapters chronicle the Vera’s youth, her troubled relationship with her mother, her brief stint in juvie, her sexual awakening, and the work that eventually leads to her recruitment by the CIA. The present chapters take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, circa 1966, in the months prior to the Argentine Revolution – which led to the country’s period of a military-dominated authoritarian-beurocratic state.
If you go into this expecting full-blown James Bond, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t just jump right into the action; it sets the stage first. The first 40% is mostly made up of stake-out mode and flashback chapters.
That’s not to say they’re boring. I flew through them. It’s obvious Knecht did her research here, and because of this, that awesome thing happened to me where I forgot that I was reading and simply felt like I was living this story through Vera’s eyes.
Her specialty is electronics, namely wiretapping. When she first arrives in country, her contact helps her get a bug placed in the vice president’s office and sets her up with a room to listen from. The rest is up to her. She's tasked with posing as a student, and ordered to work against the KGB influence she’s been told is enthralling some of the up and coming Marxists at the university.
Vera is a really relatable character. This is her first big solo mission, so you’re right there with her when it comes to nerves and anticipation while you’re reading.
Around the halfway mark things start to go sideways. A military coup, betrayal, entrapment, followed by Vera’s wild attempt to escape the country alongside the students she was spying on.
I can’t recommend this enough for anyone looking for a women-driven, realistic, spy story.
From what I can tell, this isn’t a series, and I’m a bit bummed about that. Because I would love to read novel after novel about Vera’s exploits, and watch her really come into her own as a CIA agent.
ONE CAN ONLY HOPE THE AUTHOR SEES THIS REVIEW AND COMES THROUGH FOR ME.
I received this book for free from the publisher (Tin House Books) in exchange for an honest review.
I give this book 3.5 stars which rounds up to 4.
This book is a slow burn. It’s not your typical spy novel. It’s on the slow side and there isn’t much action. I was expecting some twists and turns to the story, but that wasn’t what I got. It was a pretty straightforward plot. As a spy novel, it was a bit lackluster. I also felt that the spy parts could have been developed more because all the events seemed to move at lightning speed. I would have loved to seen more of Vera’s day to day life as a spy and more of her interactions with her fellow students.
As a work of literary fiction, this book was more successful. I actually enjoyed the flashbacks to her youth a lot more than the spy parts. I liked unraveling who Vera was and how she got to be the person she is. I particularly liked the parts about her sexuality because it shed light on how different things were for the LGBT community back in the 50’s and 60’s.
Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed by the spy aspect, but was satisfied with Vera’s character development.
3.75 Stars. I’m going to be reading all three books in this series, in the next week or two, so I will write my review for the series as a whole when I review book 3. I will say that this book had a slow start. The writing was a little much for me and reminded me of authors who have giant vocabularies and try to pack as many “big words” as they can in to show us how smart they are. There was one word I had never even heard of before, and when I looked it up it meant a word that everyone knows so I didn’t understand why that word wasn’t used instead. Luckily, once the book continued, the writing seemed to calm down and click better. Plus, the premise of a bisexual lady spy was just too good to pass up. I’m looking forward to the next two books and I hope they get better and better.
Instead of the "edge of your seat" action spy thriller, this one is a more literary and character-driven spy story. The narrative moves swiftly between two time periods: 1950s Maryland/New Jersey, USA and 1960s Buenos Aires, Argentina. Vera's childhood and youth are troubled, and she spends time in juvenile detention centers and boarding schools. Later, in the 1960s timeline, we follow her covert intelligence work in Argentina - posing as a Canadian university student, her mission is to look for "red" influence of KGB recruitment amongst the university community.
Both storylines had strong plots - we learn about Vera's identity as a queer woman, thereby learning more about that scene at the time, which was fascinating. We also learn how Vera was recruited to the CIA, and the story loops back to her surveillance before the 1966 coup d'etat and military takeover in Argentina.
I originally came across this book while researching books by Argentine writers in translation, or set in Argentina. Rosalie Knecht, while writing her own novels, is also a translator and has translated a well-known Argentine writer (César Aira). I liked what Knecht did here, and I read in an interview that she plans to write more of Vera's world... I'll be picking those up if it happens!
The swirling politics of Argentina in 1966 attracted the CIA, the KGB, and various Argentinian revolutionaries. In June 1966, a coup headed by General Juan Carlos Ongania was successful and resulted in him becoming the de facto president. He was opposed to both liberal democracy and to Communism.
Knecht has used this chaotic period in Argentina’s history as the backdrop for Vera Kelly’s CIA spying activities. Vera’s cover story is that she is a Canadian student. The CIA has identified a group of students they suspect as being aligned with the KGB. Her job is to discover what they are up to. Vera is adept at installing ‘bugs’ and listening to conversations—all while pretending to be a typical university student.
But Vera has been adept at hiding her real self for quite some time. She has struggled with her own Lesbian desires and hiding them from others for years.
Knecht takes her time setting up the story—Vera’s backstory in the form of flashbacks, the various CIA handlers, and the students who seem to have revolution on their minds. Eventually the coup happens, bombs are discovered, and Vera is left in-country by the CIA, even though her handler has betrayed her. Fortunately, Vera is a woman who ‘thinks on her feet’.
It is fun to be reading about a female spy for a change, despite Knecht's uneven writing.
Not a James Bondian spy story at all, thank goodness. Vera Kelly is in Argentina in 1966 to conduct surveillance. With her cover as a Canadian student, she encounters other students at night, and by day listens to recordings, passing on translated transcriptions and other bits of information to her CIA handler. Vera comes off as quiet and conscientious in her work, while the various students and others she meets appear to like her. Rosalie Knecht gives us an interesting portrayal of a young woman working for the CIA, and insight into the young Vera Kelly. The author alternates between Vera's present in 1966 (pre- and post-coup), and her past in 1955, when we see a confused, deeply unhappy young woman trying to understand herself and her feelings for her closest friend, and her abusive relationship with her mother. I liked the way the author alternated between the past and present in successive chapters, so we could see each major step in Vera's life that brought her to a dingy room, carefully transcribing conversations of people the CIA was interested in as part of the CIA's efforts to destabilize and profit from the situation. The author leaves the ending somewhat open, and while there doesn't appear to be any further Vera story on the horizon, I'd like to read more about this character.
Who is Vera Kelly? is an interesting and original little historical espionage novel, with its chapters alternating between the main character's presence during the lead-up to the Argentine Revolution in mid-1966 AND her problematic teen years in conventional suburban Maryland of the late 50's.
You see, Ms. Kelly is a CIA operative (though not in a James Bond or Jason Bourne sense) working solo in Buenos Aires with a dual purpose - observe / infiltrate the local student revolutionaries as well as 'bugging' government offices for potential coup information. However, she is also gay (back in the pre-Stonewall era) and flashbacks detail how she fell into the job after her life went awry.
There is one particular moment, late in the story, that was the most quietly heartbreaking (for both the character and the reader, if the story has you hooked) fictional scene I've read this year.
I think this book has cinematic possibilities, and I would like to see Jennifer Lawrence (with dark hair, a la Silver Linings Playbook) - also while she is still under 30 years old - in the title role.
Easy and quick read. The concept is interesting but for me the book didn't reach it's full potential. No thrill or suspense whatsoever. The story needed a little more exploration in order to be more interesting and captivating. There were a lot of topics that the author just brushed off, like her adolescence, her relationship with her mother, and I wanted her to dig deeper.
This book was a pleasant surprise. For some reason I had the idea that this 3-book series was a silly romp. I have no idea why I thought that; the publisher's summary, which I didn't read until after finishing the book, makes it clear that it's espionage with a bit of a twist. Maybe it was the cover art?
Anyway, it's well written and the pacing (always so important to me) is brisk. Knecht cross cuts Vera's current situation, spying for the CIA in Buenos Aires in 1966, with a gradual reveal of her backstory. Throughout the book, much of the detail of her life as an agent rang true to me in a way that is sometimes missing in espionage novels (always, of course, excepting LeCarre).
I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, which I hope is also narrated by Elizabeth Rogers, who brings just the right tone.
Thank you so much to Tin House for providing my free copy of WHO IS VERA KELLY? by Rosalie Knecht - all opinions are my own.
I really enjoyed this book! And can we just take a moment to admire this cover?!! It’s PERFECT and really showcases the story inside! I really loved the character Vera. So much so, I would love to see this as a series. It’s not a typical spy novel but rather more of a short piece of literary fiction about a spy. The book is short with chapters that alternate between past and present.
In the 1960’s, Vera is a CIA agent stationed in Argentina. Her assignment is to infiltrate a group of student radicals and wiretap a congressman. A betrayal leaves her stranded during the wake of a coup, so she must use whatever skills necessary to survive.
My favorite aspect of the book are the chapters about Vera’s past! I just love a good backstory! I highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction with an espionage edge!
This is not your mother’s spy novel (no offense, moms). Rosalie Knecht is the knockout champion of suspenseful stories, and she really packs a page-turning punch with WHO IS VERA KELLY? Her literary footwork is impressive, deftly weaving political intrigue and heartfelt drama into a one-two knockout that will leave you dazzled.
Who is Vera Kelly? She is a CIA spy whose latest assignment is to monitor the growing political unrest in Argentina and to sniff out any KGB activity. She finds herself entangled with a group of student activists, and as the situation turns haywire, Vera starts to doubt both her allies and her chances of surviving this mission.
But: who IS Vera Kelly? The best spy is one with no attachments, and Vera Kelly is an island, separated from her past by an ocean of estrangement. Knecht gracefully balances Kelly’s independent streak with a hunger for connection. Her writing really shines when she portrays the turmoil of a queer person yearning for a space to exist, both with the object of her desire and in a society that actively rejects her existence. Knecht skillfully draws parallels between the life of disguise and deception necessitated by Vera’s career and the double life she leads as a queer woman exploring her desires in closed spaces.
Though Kelly’s mission comprises most of the novel’s action, her interpersonal relationships and character development are just as compelling. You know when the written dialogue is so good that you can see it happening before your eyes? Knecht really nails her characters’ personalities and motivations, and I read most of this book as if a movie was playing out in my head.
A spy novel that refuses to fit neatly into that genre, WHO IS VERA KELLY? is as sexy as it is brilliant, and as endearing as it is adrenaline-pumping. The novel leaves no question about Knecht’s freakishly-good talents, and her ability to write an earnest narrative with enough complexity to merit at least a few re-reads. If WHO IS VERA KELLY? is any indication of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see what Knecht gifts us with next.
I guess I would give this book 2.5 stars but I definitely would not recommend it. Honestly, I’m not sure why I finished it - the prose, though boring, is kind of soothing and melodic and that is probably part of the reason. The other part is because I was waiting for it to get good or get gay and it never did. This book has been marketed as the gayest, most exciting book ever and it is neither. As far as gay is concerned, the main person who Vera has a sexual relationship with is a cisman - which is fine, sexuality is a large spectrum full of surprises but there was nothing queer about this relationship and it would have been a much more interesting choice if there was this element considering that Vera is gay. Which brings me to my next point (and maybe another reason why I kept reading) this book is written as if an extra terrestrial was given all the elements of how to tell a good story but not told which things were interesting and which were not. For example, there are flashback chapters in between the ones that take place in Argentina and they are miles more interesting than the main action, however, they are comically short sometimes just a paragraph. Vera is also a terrible spy - it’s unclear what her mission is for the entire book and then at the end she has clearly been following the wrong people for the whole time. Ultimately a boring, distant and confusing read. The titular question is impossible for anyone to answer because no one, especially not the author, knows who Vera Kelly is.
Meh. The writing's all right but so cool and detached that it's difficult to care. If at least the stakes were high (or at least clear) or the pace quick, I could have got on board, but with nothing happening, with no idea why I should care and with a heroine whose central attraction is that the author decided to write a book about her, I really couldn't. I mean, don't tell me I'm getting a novel about a lesbian spy in the sixties and then have nothing happen. I mean, Christ, the premise writes itself almost. What a wasted opportunity.
At first this was a confusing mash of back and forward of Vera's younger years and her current presence in Argentina, as Anna, and by about half way through I wasn't sure I was keeping up with the politics in government and within the student community. It was losing me, but then the June 1966 coup occured and it suddenly settled and the Vera and Anna threads started to weave together quite tightly and I was gripped until the end.
It’s a fun read. In fact, I read most of it in one sitting. But I closed the book and said out loud, “Nah, never happen.” All the elements are there. It should be a really good book. It just isn’t.
It’s 1966. Vera is quirky and shy. Kind of the tech nerd type. She’s in Buenos Aires pretending to be Canadian and a college student while engaging in suspect activities for a suspect entity. She’s mysterious about her sexual preference. Pretty juicy so far.
The parties she’s surveilling could be KGB agents. Or they could be regular college students, one of whom is either bi or lesbian.
Her contact back in the states, Gerry, is unreliable. We don’t even discover who he is until 75% of the way through the novel.
Backing up, it’s 1957 in affluent Chevy Chase, Maryland. Vera is a teenager and her domineering mother has forbidden her from seeing her best friend in the world. Vera might even be in love with Joanne. Vera does some bad things like overdosing on sleep medicine and stealing her mother’s car after her mother hits her. But her mother’s responses are outrageous. Vera leaves home. After a few dead-end jobs, she ends up with the mystery job in Argentina.
Knecht alternates chapters between her teen years and the time she spends in Argentina. This technique works well for the pacing, keeping it moving.
Something is off-kilter. Maybe it’s the structure of the novel. Maybe it’s too unbelievable. Vera is likeable. Maybe that’s the problem. She’s too likeable for the job she has.
I had high hopes for Who Is Vera Kelly. I want to read a novel in this genre with a strong female protagonist. Vera Kelly doesn’t work well for the part. Maybe another author can take auditions.
“Who is Vera Kelly?” is a CIA spy novel with Vera as a recruited CIA operative. It’s a quick read that alternates between Vera coming-of-age in 1957 to her life as a spy in 1966 Argentina. Through the quick chapters describing Vera’s late teens and early 20’s, the reader learns of Vera’s formative years. Those years allowed Vera-the-spy the gumption to survive.
This is an interesting spy novel, certainly different than a James Bond read. It’s a quick and satisfying read. However, with so many awesome novels out there, I can’t say I’d recommend it as a “must” read.
The book failed to reach its full potential despite an interesting concept. I’m going to point the most annoying thing about the book first. ”The American objective in cover ops was to preserve democracy.” I honestly laughed out loud when I read it. It’s in the very beginning of the story and the book was told from Vera’s pov, so if she believed it then, it’s in the text. But my main complain that the intrusive foreign policy of the US isn’t really properly condemned or addressed in its complexity. Yes, in the end we see this dialogue between Vera and her CIA handler: “It’s a war, Vera.” “That’s the thing, Gerry. It’s not. It’s a game.” While I appreciate the change of sentiment from Preservers of Democracy, it’s not nearly enough to encompass the damage done. I might have felt better about the narrative if it weren’t so lukewarm. And that’s my other big complain to the book.
It was rather unexciting. For female lead spy thriller set in 1960s the book isn’t thrilling or suspenseful. One of the strong points of the book it’s quiet realistic take of spy work, as I imagine it is, I’m not a spy. Don’t expect James Bond type of extravaganza from this novel. But the line between slowly paced and steady novel and boring novel is thin here and not in favor of Who is Vera Kelly?.
Let’s end the review on good aspects of the book (I’m rating the novel as 3 stars, I did have a good time reading it): * historical fiction. I loved learning about Vera’s life in 1950-60s in USA as a queer independent woman and later her life in Buenos Aires. This is the type of funeducation I like but I can’t really tell how historically accurate everything was tho. * The writing is solid, it’s readable. I have issues with the plot development (re: unsuspensful story) but it was easy to follow thanks to simplistic writing * Vera is cool. I wish I liked her more (I’m blaming it on the lukewarmness of the book). Vera is queer, she’s spy (she’s expert in radio communication). The narration is frank about her partners, she had several partners and relationships over the course of the book. But they are on the background. Vera is tend to prefer woman. Vera is smart, she knows several languages and I loved her calm and confidence. * Vera/Victoria dynamics were interesting and complex. * Dual plotline between the present operation in Argentina and Vera’s life before CIA * Buenos Aires <3 It made me so happy to recognize the places where Vera went, I need to read more books set in Buenos Aires.
To sum up, Who is Vera Kelly? is standalone adult novel about CIA spy, operating in 1960s in Buenos Aires. Starring bisexual female lead, the book is definitely stands out. I would recommend to check it out for historical elements and for the main character herself. If you’re a fan of spy thriller, I’m afraid you won’t particularly enjoy the book.
Rosalie Knecht’s Who Is Vera Kelly? is a spy novel for readers who avoid spy novels. It’s a page turner that stunningly evokes both 1960s Argentina, and the trauma of growing up queer in 1950s and 60s America. Vera Kelly is a CIA agent monitoring student activists (who are purportedly affiliated with the KGB) in a politically tumultuous Buenos Aires. Vera, operating incognito both professionally and romantically, spirals down the rabbit hole as she becomes ever more involved in these fiery student social circles.
By exploring Vera’s memories and experiences, Knecht considers what it means to be pushed to the margins of one’s society, to be unmoored, to live one’s life, both literally and metaphorically, under an alias. Who Is Vera Kelly?, espionage thriller cum bildungsroman, is a cinematic tour de force.
This book is an absolute gem. I first heard about it from an odd source (for me) — Elle magazine, which enticed readers to "view the Cold War from another angle in this spy novel about a young American woman embedded in a group of Buenos Aires activists in the 1960s."
Then I completely forgot about it for several months. Then on a random trip to the Strand it leapt out at me from the shelves, so.
Anyway! It's indeed about an American twenty-something who's a spy in Buenos Aires during the Cold War, which, in parallel, tells the story of her semi-juvenile-delinquent childhood in Maryland, her young adulthood in New York City, and what on earth brought her all the way to Argentina. She's also gay, but that's just one element of her character, not a huge focus, which I think is perfectly done.
The book is filled with delightful and evocative descriptions, deft plot maneuvers, and excellently realized characters. It's moody but sharp, compelling and very believable. It's in its way a tense whodunit, but it's also exceedingly clever and, ultimately, funny in a fairly heartbreaking way.
The cover made me think this was going to be whimsical, which is why I've been giving it the reluctant eye for a full nine-week renewal period, but there's actually nothing whimsical about this at all, thank goodness. Vera Kelly is undercover in 1966 Buenos Aires just ahead of the Onganía coup, full of faith in the United States' belief in democracy and infiltrating a group of students who she believes have KGB ties, all while existing in the uneasy closet that was the norm for queers in the '60s. This narrative, with Vera-as-Canadian-psychology-student "Anne" is intercut with a heartbroken younger Vera nine years earlier, sent to a juvenile detention center by her abusive mother. Vera is a wonderful character, sharp and smart without being fanciful, and Knecht's clean, detailed writing hit me just so. Given the neatness of the ending, especially re: Vera's awakening to the truth of what the U.S. really is, what could the next two books possibly be about? Do I know or care? Not at all, I just want to get my hands on them. Five stars.
"She was the last person who could look at me and see me looking back, who could put out her hand and find me there. I wouldn't let it be so easy again."
Somehow I never wrote a review for this but I remember reading it, and now I have the sequel so I thought I should at least mark it as read. I had a review copy of it through NetGalley, where I also never reviewed it. What gives, old me.
3.7 stars rounded up. A female spy novel set in 1962. Vera is having a bit of a tough time, struggling to pay her bills and blending in with the gay scene in Greenwich Village. She is very talented in technology and fast thinking and gets the question to join the CIA as a spy and takes it. This was an entertaining spy novel that felt fresh and modern even if it was set in 1962. Wasn't overly excited for the story but think its started out alright and interested in seeing what's gonna happen next.
Who is Vera Kelly? is a fast, easy read. Rosalie Knecht’s writing is clear and sharp and I raced through the book in less than a day. Using chapters that alternate between Vera’s past and present, Knecht weaves a coming of age story into a political thriller. There is a lot to love about this novel, but I also found myself feeling disconnected at times. For me, Who is Vera Kelly? is a solid three stars. If you like plot driven novels, especially about spies, or historical fiction, this might be a great book for you.
The majority of the novel takes place in Argentina in the 1960s. Vera is stationed in Buenos Aires as a CIA agent who is tasked with both wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student radicals. In the wake of a coup, Vera finds herself stranded and must use her charm and street smarts to survive.
To be honest, I never fully connected with this portion of Vera’s story. I'm generally more of a character driven reader and the political storyline left me wanting. I never felt dread. My heart never pounded. I never gasped in shock. And although I raced through these chapters, it was more so I could find my way back to Vera’s youth, than any driving need to find out what happened next in the plot.
In contrast, I was FULLY engaged with the chapters that examined Vera's past. These sections were heavily character driven and explored Vera’s relationship with her mother, her blossoming sexuality, and the challenges she faced as a queer woman in the 1960s. Without a doubt, this was the strongest part of the novel for me and what kept me reading.
Tin House was generous enough to send me an early copy of Who is Vera Kelly? to read and review. Who is Vera Kelly? will be out in June. If you love a good spy story, check it out!
Thanks to Tin House for this free review copy! * I can honestly say that I didn't know just how much I needed to read a spy novel about a female CIA agent in 1960s Buenos Aires.......and then I read this book and realized I was obviously aching for this in my life. I stayed up way, way, way past my bedtime inhaling Vera's adventures that alternate between the years leading up to her CIA career and her mission in Buenos Aires ~ both of these storylines were fascinating to me, and I deeply appreciated Vera's fierce independence and ingenuity. * Oh, and bonus points to me for reading this during Pride Month! Vera's self-analysis of her sexuality definitely added to the depth of her character and I loved how Knecht expertly wove romantic feelings into the narrative without watering down the spy storyline. * Highly recommended for readers of mystery and spy fiction, and for those who love nothing better than a kickass female lead.
I liked WHO IS VERA KELLY? I think it delivered more than it promised. For no extra fee, I got a quick history lesson about US operations in the 60s, a view of the Cold War, and a view of CIA operations that I would actually expect… nothing 007ish, just listening and watching. AND a geography and history lesson about Argentina and the Falkland Islands.
So she ends up in Argentina, wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating student activists in Buenos Aires. As in real life, the poop hits the fan faster than expected and Vera is left without a way to exit the country, so she takes matters into her own hands and does the best she can.
I liked that Vera Kelly isn’t perfect and has her own unique flaws and that the book has some uneven pacing… But it is nice to see a female heroine come off as resourceful, smart, quick-witted, fairly normal, and can fix something on her own. She has a skill set (working on communication boards) that is plausible and she is brave. Overall, when I think about it, Vera Kelly is worth another look.
3.5 stars. I was looking for something to distract me from all the tough news and this fit the bill. I am hopeful Booktopia will occur and I hope to meet Rosalie Knecht. We learn who Vera Kelly is and what she is up to. This novel moves between her teens in Maryland and her move to NYC after graduation to Argentina where her latest job has taken her. She is a very interesting character, with unusual skills and the plot kept me turning the pages. I can't wait for book # 2 in the Vera Kelly series.
Really a 3.5 rating. This book is in parts historical fiction, a character study, and an espionage thriller. Vera Kelly is complex and she lives her life on the down low. The chapters alternate between her current life, 1966 Argentina, where she is a spy for the CIA in Buenos Aires and the late 1950's where she is a troubled teen hiding her true sexual orientation. Vera is deeply involved with the CIA, the KGB, and various Argentinian revolutionaries. She is an incredibly ball-sy loner who leads a life filled with adventure and risk. A quick easy read for cold dark winter nights accompanied by a roaring fireplace and a warm cup of tea.