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. Amiram was just turning eighteen, awaiting his Israel Defense Force service some months later. Connecting via our respective roommates, we often hung out together. He was very intelligent, multi-faceted, and surprisingly erudite. As I was very attached to my high school boyfriend, there was no question of a romantic relationship, but we engaged in long, thought-provoking conversations about life, society and politics.
Amiram never seemed ill-at-ease in a university where the youngest male students were twenty-one, having already finished a three-year IDF service. Soon, he 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.)
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 the change in one eye. “What happened?” I asked, and he mentioned that he’d lost it and this was a glass eye. Having seen Amiram in an officer uniform on his campus visits, I assumed it had been the price exacted in a military action….
In the late 80s, I was sad to accidentally hear that Amiram had died 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. I had no further details and we no longer had mutual acquaintances, but the tragedy of the untimely death of a highly talented man, 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 if Amiram had survived? What happened to the family in the aftermath of the dramatic death?
I wanted to write a domestic drama, to stay close to home. 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. 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. 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 backtrack and get rid of it.
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!