Motherhood is complicated. It becomes even more complicated when you are an undercover spy trying to infiltrate the KGB during the 1950s. Karin Tanabe’s A Woman of Intelligence is the thrilling story of Katharina Edgeworth, a previously career-focused, party-girl who took to the streets of Manhattan who has now taken to the country’s most popular job at the time: stay-at-home mom. In post-war New York City, it has become a huge privilege to abandon your career now that all of the city’s husbands have returned from their battles. However, Katharina doesn’t seem to think so.
Ever since marrying her husband, Tom Edgeworth, a prestigious pediatric surgeon, she has lost her identity to motherhood. Her two young boys, Gerrit and Peter, are more of a handful than Katharina had imagined. She had to put her career behind her in order to take care of them. Formerly a translator for the UN, Katharina craves to live her independent working lifestyle. Cue Lee Coldwell – an FBI agent who has been tailing Katharina for weeks. Lee has a specific job for Katharina. He wants her to go undercover to expose an ex-lover of hers from her Columbia days, Jacob Gornev, who is deeply involved in the KGB. Katharina has reached a crossroads in her life – how will she balance her deep desire to join the FBI as an undercover spy to regain her previous identity while balancing her family and motherhood? Find out Katharina’s definition of “a woman that has it all” in A Woman of Intelligence.
I absolutely loved this book – it took a “finding yourself” story and added an interesting twist with a feminist main character. This novel absolutely screamed feminist manifesto. Imagine that you are in the 1950s and have been pigeonholed into the role of stay-at-home mother with little to no outside help. How are you supposed to break free to pursue your own dreams when women’s rights were already off the hinges? The fact that Katharina found a way to find herself through motherhood by becoming a legit UNDERCOVER SPY is absolutely badass. I loved how, even though this was a difficult era to be a woman, Tanabe managed to make the main character a raging feminist in her own way.
I don’t want to give away too much in the book but there are a few prominent male characters throughout the novel – Tom Edgeworth, Jacob Gornev and Lee Coldwell being a few. What I enjoyed about the interactions between Katharina and all the men in her life was that, frankly, she didn’t take any BS from any of them. When Katharina had something on her mind, she was upfront about it. She didn’t buy into the idea of how women were “supposed” to behave, she simply spoke up about her issues. This was out of the ordinary for this time in history and Tanabe’s take on a 1950s feminist shows through Katharina’s outspoken and strong-willed personality.
What resonated with me throughout this story as well was the narrative on motherhood. I have read or watched little to no media that discusses the loss of identity when it comes to motherhood. You slowly become “Mom” and that is your whole identity. It was really beautiful to see Katharina lose and gain her sense of self throughout the story, especially while staying together with her family. Although I’m not a mother, I related to Katharina’s struggle of losing her identity at a point in her youth. There are many scenarios in our lives as woman where we have potential to lose our identities – motherhood being one of them. I got to interview with the author, Karin Tanabe, and hear her thoughts on loss of identity during motherhood, the writing process of this book, and feminism in general. Check out and read A Woman of Intelligence to find out what happens with Katharina’s FBI escapades.