The 8 Books About Spies & Argentina That Inspired Rosalie Knecht's Novel 'Who Is Vera Kelly?'
In my opinion, Rosalie Knecht's literary spy novel Who Is Vera Kelly? is one of this summer's biggest treats for readers. It's a marvelous combination of a spy thriller, a mystery story, and a historical novel that puts a female twist the genre. Move aside, James Bond.
"I was a little bit annoyed at the way that women in the spy genre tend to be just like Scarlett Johansson," Knecht told Bustle in an interview published in June 2018. "They're always like these insane sex bots, you know what I mean? And I was kind of more interested in how it would be to be a regular functionary."
Set in the 1960s, Who Is Vera Kelly? is the story of Vera, a young woman who has moved from New York City to Buenos Aires to monitor an impending coup. Between her attraction to a student revolutionary and her uncertain political footing, Vera soon finds herself a little over her head. The novel switches between Vera's time in Argentina, to the rocky coming-of-age that leads her towards the life of a spy.
As a "book therapist" for Literary Hub, Knecht is an expert at prescribing the right book for any problem. So of course, I was curious to know which books helped Knecht writeWho Is Vera Kelly?
On this list, you'll find everything from unmissable spy books to fascinating explorations of history, each with its own part to play in the creation of Knecht's new book.
'The Honorary Consul' by Graham Greene
This 1973 British thriller novel is set in the city of Corrientes in northern Argentina. Filled with "intelligence services intrigue and a lot of moral failure," the story follows a newcomer to town, Dr. Eduardo Plarr, as he finds himself the negotiator between the authorities and Paraguayan revolutionaries who have mistakenly kidnapped a British consul.
'The Big Sleep' by Raymond Chandler
This quintessential hardboiled crime novel follows rugged private eye, Philip Marlowe. When Marlowe is called to investigate the blackmail of a young woman, he soon becomes entrenched in a mystery that almost throws him off his game.
'The Girl I Left Behind: A Narrative History of the Sixties' by Judith Nies
This memoir gives a fascinating glimpse into the covert and non-covert sides of the CIA and State Department during the '60s, and what it was like to be a woman working there. Nies and her husband were living an idyllic life in Washington D.C. until Nies discovered she was at the center of an FBI investigation, and her life took a radical turn.
'Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers' by Lillian Faderman
This book gives a social history of American lesbians, drawing on journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and interviews. Knecht calls it "very readable and fun."
'Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War' by Giles Whittell
You might recognize this title from the Tom Hanks adaptation. This book gives a riveting account of the history of the development of the U2 and the spycraft in the early '60s that led to a legendary hostage exchange.
'The History of Argentina' by Daniel K. Lewis
Reading Who Is Vera Kelly? is just an introduction to the volatile history of Argentina, particularly in the 20th century. This book zooms out to Argentina's history from pre-Columbian times to 2001, drawing connections to how recent eras were affected by the historical events that preceded them.
'Plata Quemada' a.k.a. 'Money to Burn' by Ricardo Piglia
Knecht tells Bustle: "Argentinian writers have loved playing with genre, especially detective stories, since at least Borges if not before." This book is based on a real 1965 bank robbery that went seriously awry, ultimately ending with a shootout and the robbers burning all the loot.
'The Seamstress and the Wind' by César Aira
Knecht actually translated this book into English. "I'm a little embarrassed to shout out my own translation here, but this novel and its scenes driving/flying across Patagonia were what informed any mental picture I had of that region," she says. "Also highly recommend Ema The Captive and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, also by Aira (both translated by Chris Andrews), for more unforgettable writing about landscape."