“I Am Not a Spy”– Memoir of a Jewish Student Going Deep in the Arab World

SALT LAKE CITY, UT December 2, 2016

michael_bassin_photoEarlier this year, a manuscript appeared in WiDo Publishing’s™ submission box with the intriguing title “I Am Not a Spy.” It was the true story of a young American Jew, Michael Bassin, who travels to the Middle East in an attempt to understand why the Jews and Arabs can’t seem to get along. Submissions editor Allie Maldonado eagerly opened it.

“At first reading, Michael’s story had some fantastic elements but needed better organization,” Maldonado states. “I was buried under submissions at the time and so I sent off a rapid rejection. He responded with graciousness, asking me if I wouldn’t mind telling him how to improve his work. He seemed genuine, friendly and open, politely requesting a few tips. Unable to resist such a positive attitude, I summarized what I felt it needed and invited him to rewrite and resubmit if he wanted to give it another shot. The revised manuscript was absolutely everything I’d hoped for!”

Before embarking on his odyssey in the Middle East, Michael Bassin had no way of predicting the awesomeness of the journey he was about to experience, how profoundly it would impact him, or what conclusions he would draw about the region and its chances for progress and peace.  However, he did realize from the beginning that it would be wise to write down anything noteworthy. So, during his time studying and traveling as an undergrad, Bassin jotted down notes about all that was happening to him and around him every few days and typed them up on his laptop.

“I very badly wanted to send out mass emails to friends and family and write blog posts during my actual experience, so people understood what I was experiencing as an openly Jewish American exchange student,” the author states. “I decided against doing that though because I quickly understood that writing about what I was experiencing could have gotten me into trouble with the authorities, as I was based in countries that do not protect freedom of speech or expression. Not wanting to get locked up or deported, Microsoft Word on my laptop remained my sole sounding board.”

Shortly after arriving back in the US, Bassin pieced his notes together and wrote up a vivid summary of his experience that he mass emailed to friends and family.  He states, “Over the next few days and weeks, my original email was passed along to more people than I can accurately estimate.  I started getting emails and phone calls from strangers who told me how fascinating they thought my experiences were.  Those emails and phone calls led to invitations to speak about my experience at community centers, university campuses, synagogues, and churches.”

The more he shared his experiences, the more he realized just how different his vantage point about the Middle East was to people.   The vast majority of written accounts of the Middle East tend to come from foreign correspondents, diplomats, politicians, and soldiers.  There simply haven’t been that many private citizens, and especially not American Jews, who have gone to live directly among Middle Easterners (in a university setting for example) in the modern Middle East and tell their tales about it later.

“Talking to people helped me understand just how special my story was and how important it was to share it with other people,” Bassin realized. “Nevertheless, it took another three to four years for me to make the decision to actually sit down and commit myself to writing the book.  I was six months away from completing my service as a combat Arabic translator in an Israeli army infantry unit and on a visit home to Cincinnati.  I had been speaking at my local synagogue about what it was like to be the face and voice of my army unit in interactions with Palestinians considering all my previous experiences in the Arab world when a few family friends pulled me aside to emphasize how badly I needed to get my story out to the world.”

Bassin decided that when he finished his army service, there’d be a window of time to dedicate wholeheartedly  writing his story.  He committed himself then and there to the task of writing the complete manuscript. “My last six months in the army I spent nearly all my free time writing down additional notes, ideas, and experiences from my time in the Arab world and serving in the army.”

Bassin’s service completed, he moved back to Cincinnati to his parent’s house and began organizing notes, creating an outline, and writing a few test chapters to share with friends with literary backgrounds.  “Once I got their stamp of approval that what I was writing was worthwhile, it took me another 8 months of full-time writing to complete a rough manuscript that I believed in.”

WiDo Publishing came up when Bassin was doing Google searches for publishers that focus on personal memoirs.   “When I checked out the WiDo website, I was really impressed with WiDo’s mission statement and the emphasis they put on giving debut authors a real platform.  I thought that WiDo’s philosophy resonated with my work and I enthusiastically sent in my manuscript,” Bassin says.

“We love this book,” Maldonado states. “It’s timely, insightful, filled with personal anecdotes and details of Michael’s experiences, and absolutely a fantastic story. We’re so glad that Michael found us and persisted to get through to an overwhelmed submissions editor.”

Michael Bassin has traversed the Middle East as a journalist, businessman, soldier, student, and explorer.  His Middle East expertise has made him a frequent speaker and consultant to organizations, corporations, and politicians with an interest in the region.  A graduate of The George Washington University with a degree in International Affairs, Bassin is a partner in a Tel Aviv-based technology startup and regularly provides commentary to news outlets on the Middle East.  He has been featured on Public Radio International, the BBC, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post. He lives in Ramat Gan, Israel.