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(cover: Susan Erony)
The Emissary: A Life of Enzo Sereni by Ruth Bondy (92,000 words, 11 illustrations)
“Enzo Sereni was physically tiny, a peanut with spectacles. Born in 1905 into a cultivated, wealthy Italian Jewish family, he steeped himself as a youth in traditional Italian culture. Burning with visions of Eden, he became one of the little band of Italian Zionists — more precisely, the still littler band of Italian Socialist Zionists, dreamers of a new life for Jews as a people and as people. At 22, he went off with his wife to Palestine, the two of them the first Italians to work as “pioneers.” He became a founder of kibbutz Givat Brenner, working on and off as laborer in the fields and then racing away to beg/borrow money for the kibbutz from Jewish agencies and Italian relatives. During the war he served with British intelligence in Cairo, and then worked as a secret agent in Iraq, helping endangered Jews to flee. Finally, 39, he parachuted behind the Nazi lines in northern Italy, hoping to save a few of the remaining Jews stranded there. Caught by the Nazis, he was shipped to Dachau. The few surviving witnesses record that he behaved with notable courage. In 1944 the Nazis killed him...
As Ruth Bondy, an Israeli journalist, tells the story in her unadorned and disciplined book, the bare events take on color, shape and nuance, and one comes to think of Sereni as a heroic figure. He seems heroic not just because of his readiness to face death, by no means unusual in our century, but because of his wish to live out his life to the brim of consciousness — which for him meant the brim of responsibility and risk...
Sereni’s story is the best testimony I have ever read to the moral energy Zionism commanded during its heroic period... Ruth Bondy has told his story with an admirable plainness, out of an understanding that in our time nothing is finally more moving than the record of an exemplary life.” — Irving Howe, The New York Times
“When I think about Enzo there is one thought on my mind: he was unique. Of course, he lived in our midst, in the kibbutz, in political life; he had many friends who were near to him; he loved people — and yet, I always felt that he was one of a kind. You cannot say about Enzo: he was one of those who... There was nobody like him.” — Golda Meir, from the Afterword
“Enzo Sereni’s life is the stuff of legend. His passionate nature and reflective intelligence were both animated and tempered by the most scrupulous ethical judgments. A dashing and romantic figure in the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, he should become — through Ruth Bondy’s sensitive and deeply human evocation — an inspiration for all who genuinely care about justice. Here was a man who had roots and wings at once.” — Martin Peretz, Editor, The New Republic
“Enzo Sereni’s life was climaxed by an act of desperate heroism in World War II — parachuting behind the Nazi lines to bring courage to the beleaguered and alert them that the outside world was concerned with their fate. Precisely because Ruth Bondy writes of him in a low key, without forced drama, and with the larger perspective never lost, her biography of this Italian-born Israeli leaves an unforgettable impact.” — Abram L. Sachar, Chancellor, Brandeis University