PROFILE

Exclusive letters from prison help bring to life the story of executed spy Ethel Rosenberg

THERE is not one moment of hesitance when Anne Sebba pinpoints how long she had been thinking of writing a book about Ethel Rosenberg.

Axed from her role as a foreign correspondent at Reuters after falling pregnant, she had plenty of spare time on her hands.

Immersing herself in American literature, she was particularly taken with EL Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, which is loosely based on the lives, trial and execution of Rosenberg and her husband, Julius.

“In that book, the Rosenbergs’ two boys are turned into a boy and a girl,” Anne told me from her home in London.

“I had a boy and a baby girl, and was a very young mother finding my way, so that story spoke to me.

“I also read Sophie’s Choice, which is also about being a mother and making impossible choices. I think that really is the root of it.”

It all led to Anne penning Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy (Orion Books, £20), which was published yesterday — and the rights of which have already been snapped up by Miramax Films.

The first biography of Rosenberg in more than 30 years — and the first written with the full use of her prison letters — Anne brings to life the story of the only woman in American history to be executed for a crime other than murder.

It was on June 19, 1953, that Ethel and Julius were sent to her death, having been convicted of spying for the Soviet Union.

Anne, who has written 10 works of non-fiction — mainly about iconic women — said: “I was finishing my book, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s, which featured quite a lot of women and spies.

“My publishers were nice enough to say to me, ‘Well, surely there’s one of those resistance women you can pull out and do a biography of on their own?’.

“And I concluded that, actually, most of the interesting ones had already been done.

“Then I suddenly thought about mothers and spies, and what it takes to be a mother and a spy, and it popped back into my head. Really, it just came to me that I had to do this.”

Born in London in 1951 and of Lithuanian and Polish heritage, Anne (nee Rubinstein) was raised in a culturally Jewish family.

“We went to shul three or four times a year, but my parents were quite strict about doing Friday nights,” she recalled.

“We later moved out to Esher, Surrey, and I went to a school for Christian Scientists called Claremont.

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