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Who Is Vera Kelly?

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  492 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
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
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 12th 2018 by Tin House Books
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Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Call the State Department. I’m CIA.”

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 t
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 eve
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 an
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 e
Elizabeth Willis
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, small-press
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 stude ...more
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Kate Olson
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 appreciat
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc-reviews
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 ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-release
Thanks to Tin House for sending me this book as part of the Galley Club (where you get a free book in exchange for an honest review and feedback).

When I first heard of this book, I expected a spy novel, like a female James Bond book. It is that with Vera's time as a spy in Argentina. But I think the title tells you more of what the story really is. It's about the general person of Vera Kelly and what made her who she ends up being (the spy experience is part of that). The book alternates betwee
Andy Weston
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Centred around the Argentinian Revolution of June 1966 that led to Ongania’s junta taking power this is a cleverly written literary spy novel with a strong female character as lead.
Told in the first person, with flashbacks to her school days, Knecht has created a fascinating heroine in Vera. The historical accuracy and setting is especially captivating for me having lived in South America for several years and frequently travelled to Buenos Aires for work. It was a turbulent, tragic and yet fas
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Amy Stewart
This engrossing novel of intrigue and identity. What Vera Kelly is not is your typical school girl, and she’s definitely not your typical spy.

Vera has found a sense of accomplishment in her work with the CIA. The satisfaction of a job well done in service to her country is what helps make the rest of her lonely existence worth getting up for every morning. I say lonely because Vera is a closeted lesbian and in the 1960s it wasn’t impossible to find female companionship in New York City, but doin
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
It does not happen often when I like book more than I expected, but that’s exactly the case with ‘Who is Vera Kelly?’ by Rosalie Knecht. It is a spy novel, so I anticipated some easy-reading, adventures, pretentious phrases and deathless main character, who stays alive in the most ridiculous situations. How happy I am, that my expectations were wrong. ‘Who is Vera Kelly’ is a smart, realistic, slow-reading novel with childhood problems and a historic background.

‘Who is Vera Kelly?’ mostly set in
Shelley Gibbs
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Slow burn Cold War era espionage thriller and coming of age story. Vera is a charming narrator and I would certainly read more of her adventures. I enjoyed Knecht’s prose. If you’re expecting lady James Bond excitement, you may be disappointed.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Flor M
Jan 24, 2018 marked it as to-read
why is she in argentina im so intrigued (also WORRIED)
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it
You can read all of my full reviews at:

Smart, suspenseful and engaging. I very much liked Vera Kelly, but not for the reasons I thought I would. When I read the words “spy novel” I thought I’d be reading about a very badass Bond-like babe but Vera turned out to be a vulnerable, resourceful young woman. Although, highly badass in her own right.

Vera is a CIA agent stationed in Argentina in 1966, just trying to do her job...the beginning started off a little too polit
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I’m not sure a book could be more appealing in its buzzwords: Cold War lesbian spy novel.

Vera Kelly is a CIA tech undercover in Argentina trying to simultaneously gather information on the political leadership in the country, which is being threatened by a coup, and infiltrate a group of university students who the CIA believes are recruiting for the KGB. She poses as a Canadian student studying psychology and living off her parents’ money, all while running around planting bugs, gathering intel
Neville Longbottom
Jul 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, lgbtqia
3.5 - A spy novel set in the 1960s starring a queer female protagonist? Sign me up. Who Is Vera Kelly? is told in two timelines, Vera in the 50s as she’s growing up and leaving home and Vera in the 60s when she’s working undercover for the CIA in Argentina. Overall I think the book is pretty enjoyable, if a tiny bit underwhelming.

I wouldn’t exactly say this is a spy novel in the traditional sense. It isn’t super fast paced with a bunch of plot twists and high stakes situations, it definitely fe
Isabella Martin
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am a big fan of Knecht's previous book, Relief Map, which is similar to this book in that they both have some thrilling plot elements, but also pay great attention to character development.

This book moves back and forth in time in Vera Kelly's life, alternating between the past and present narratives with each chapter. At first I was concerned that it would be one of those books where one of the narrative timelines is much more interesting/engaging than the other, which leads to the sense of
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Who is Vera Kelly is a beautiful, complicated novel that feels both cinematic and deeply profound. I loved every minute of the journey with Vera. Knecht is an auto-read author for me. I loved her first novel, Relief Map and didn’t think anything can top it---but this Vera Kelly did it for me.

This is a coming-of-age story of Vera who is struggling to make rent when she gets approached by the CIA. Before she knows it, she is on a trip to Argentina tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltr
I'm pulling the ol' "there should be half-stars on Goodreads--I'm rouding up." Who Is Vera Kelly? is a solid 3.5 if only due to its snail's pace for the first half of the novel. The writing makes up for it--I loved the 1960s Argentina and Vera's 1950s queer coming-of-age in Chevy Chase and NYC. I wasn't always terribly sure who was doing what and why, and the characterization of the other characters seemed a little sparse, but it all kind of worked out anyway in the spy novel aspect (not that I' ...more
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
I tore through this book, going on a wild ride with Vera Kelly. Many, many thanks to Tin House for the ARC of this delightful novel. Alternating between Vera’s strange childhood and her presence as a spy in Latin America, this story gradually reveals the question in the novel’s title. Truthfully, the lonely Vera may have little idea who she is either or at least she hasn’t synthesized how she ended up in Argentina and why.

Anyone who picks up this book will be in for a treat and as mentioned, a
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
The New York Times recommends this book for summer reading.

An easy read! The story is light. The writing flows, and has no literary pretension. The spy mission has no import, simply a prop for the protagonist.

I know it does not matter to most people, but to me I know the spy gadgets like the hidden microphone (the "bug") and the location tracker cannot work without power (like a battery) let alone work for a period of weeks. It bugs me!
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-books-2018
This book was different than my usual fare and that's why I enjoyed it so much. It starts to pick up pace about 28% in or so. Part spy thriller, part coming of age story set in the 1950 and 1960s. Great LGBT representation for a time that most lesbians were very closeted. Makes you appreciate today's times. Also a government coup and all that is relevant to today's times.
i mostly enjoyed this novel... though i did it a bit of a disservice reading it in my current state. my concentration and focus have not been great and i found the non-linear timeline–which i am usually totally fine with–a bit clunky for my brain. but that is my fault, not at all anything to do with the author or story!! knecht is a good writer and this was a compellingly different approach to the noir genre.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Don't judge this one by its cover - or by its marketing. I was expecting something much more light-hearted and fun, but I got something sweet and serious and really quite low-key.

It's good, and I enjoyed its easy readability, but I wasn't exactly blown away by it.
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: all-lgbtqia
Who is Vera Kelly, you ask? My future wife, of course!
Trude Arnøy
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Vera Kelly is a spy working in Argentina doing electronic surveillance for the CIA. The novel alternates between her time as a teen in a detention center and boarding school and her time working undercover in her mid 20's. It wasn't a particularly fast moving story, but I didn't know much about what was going on in Argentina during that time, and that was interesting enough to keep me invested in the story.
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Rosalie Knecht is the author of Who is Vera Kelly? (Tin House, June 2018) and Relief Map. She grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Oberlin College and Hunter College, and works in mental health in New York City. She is also the translator of César Aira's The Seamstress and the Wind.
More about Rosalie Knecht

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“He bought me a fernet and did not, to my relief, try to explain to me what it was. Expat men had a mania for explaining the indigenous liquors.” 0 likes
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