A Conversation with Daniel Silva: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet Magazine, July 11, 2017
A James Bond for the Post-9/11 World: Barbara Kay, National Post, December 14, 2011
The Spy Who Copes with the Holocaust: Adam Dunn, CNN, March 25, 2004
It was Beatrice Kenton who first questioned the identity of the new girl. She did so in the staff room, at a quarter past three, on a Friday in late November. The mood was festive and faintly rebellious, as was the case most Friday afternoons. It is a truism that no profession welcomes the end of the workweek with more anticipation than teachers—even teachers at elite institutions such as the International School of Geneva. The chatter was of plans for the weekend. Beatrice abstained, for she had none, a fact she did not wish to share with her colleagues. She was fifty-two, unmarried, and with no family to speak of other than a rich old aunt who granted her refuge each summer at her estate in Norfolk. Her weekend routine consisted of a trip to the Migros and a walk along the lakeshore for the sake of her waistline, which, like the universe, was ever expanding. First period Monday was an oasis in an otherwise Empty Quarter of solitude.Founded by a long-dead organization of multilateralism, Geneva International catered to the children of the city’s diplomatic community. The middle school, where Beatrice taught reading and composition, educated students from more than a hundred different countries. The faculty was a similarly diverse lot. The head of personnel went to great effort to promote employee bonding—cocktail parties, potluck dinners, nature outings—but in the staff room the old tribalism tended to reassert itself. Germans kept with other Germans, French with French, Spanish with Spanish. On that Friday afternoon, Miss Kenton was the only British subject present other than Cecelia Halifax from the history department. Cecelia had wild black hair and predictable politics, which she insisted on sharing with Miss Kenton at every opportunity. Cecelia also divulged to Miss Kenton details of the torrid sexual affair she was having with Kurt Schröder, the Birkenstocked math genius from Hamburg who had given up a lucrative engineering career to teach multiplication and division to eleven-year-olds.
The staff room was on the ground floor of the eighteenth-century château that served as the administration building. Its leaded windows gazed across the forecourt, where presently Geneva International’s privileged young students were clambering into the backs of German-made luxury sedans with diplomatic license plates. Loquacious Cecelia Halifax had planted herself next to Beatrice. She was prattling on about a scandal in London, something involving MI6 and a Russian spy. Beatrice was scarcely listening. She was watching the new girl.
As usual, she was at the hindmost end of the daily exodus, a wispy child of twelve, already beautiful, with liquid brown eyes and hair the color of a raven’s wing. Much to Beatrice’s dismay, the school had no uniform, only a dress code, which several of the more freethinking students flouted with no official sanction. But not the new girl. She was covered from head to toe in expensive wool and plaid, the sort of stuff one saw at the Burberry boutique in Harrods. She carried a leather bookbag rather than a nylon backpack. Her patent leather ballet slippers were glossy and bright. She was proper, the new girl, modest. But there was something else about her, thought Beatrice. She was cut from a different cloth. She was regal. Yes, that was the word. Regal…
[To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
With so much of the news feeling like a poorly written novel these days, it’s a pleasure to have well-written fiction to distract us, especially if it also provides the sort of insight into war, terrorism, and the brinksmanship of the global espionage game that the press too rarely gets right. It’s a difficult art to master, and it helps if, like Daniel Silva, one is not only a former reporter who gets the story just right but also an elegant writer who knows how to tell it briskly. Today marks the publication of House of Spies, Silva’s newest novel and the 17th to feature Israeli super spy Gabriel Allon. Any attempt to summarize the novel’s intricate and beautifully woven plot are bound to do it needless violence. But, this being Silva, the action spans the globe, the characters are complex and compelling, and the story, which kicks off with a terrifying ISIS attack in London, feels frighteningly timely. I spoke to Silva about trying to write novels while watching the news, about his famous protagonist, and about what happens when reality interferes with his plot lines.Q: What’s it like being you and reading the news? Are you distracted by it? Inspired? Terrified?
A: I’m constantly, obsessively writing and creating, and so I cannot read The New York Times on any given day without seeing a novel or two behind the news. Particularly with what’s going on in the region and in the Middle East these days, and having a character like Gabriel, let’s just say I have no shortage of ideas about what to do next. Or take what’s going on domestically with Trump and the alleged Russia connection: I’ve written two novels about Russian meddling in Western politics, and it’s sort of bizarre to see it come true. I wish it hadn’t, but they’ve been meddling in other people’s elections for a long, long time, and then it came true here.
Q: And when something like that happens, when your plotlines seem to come to life, do you congratulate yourself on being such a great novelist? Or do you tear your hair out and scream, “Oh my god, the reality is catching up with my imagination”?
A: I think that our constant exposure to news and information has changed thrillers. 9/11 did as well. Back in the 70s, when I started reading, you could be over-the-top with big plots and wild conspiracies. Now everyone is so in tune, and I write my books with the realization that people may be reading it on their phone or on their iPad, and they’re googling along with the story. So I think the hyper-information age that we live in has changed the way someone like me goes about the craft. That said, I long for the old days. I hate having to keep up with technology and I hate putting technology in the book.
… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
I love journalism. But keeping up with the news leaves little time for recreational reading. In my pre-columnizing days, I’d read a novel or two a week. But fiction, especially the detective and spy genres I adore, has become a guilty pleasure.
Last weekend, curious to see why the Gabriel Allon espionage series is so popular, I defied my superego and plunged into Daniel Silva’s latest book, Portrait of a Spy. The pleasure was worth the guilt. I’m officially smitten by the book’s protagonist, Gabriel Allon.
This middle-aged Israeli secret agent is a cosmopolitan polyglot haunted by Holocaust ghosts, with a brilliant record of eliminating latter-day Islamist Hitler wannabees.
Allon isn’t just a secret agent, though. He’s a gifted artist with a specialty in the restoration of old masters. He is psychologically torn (de rigeur in this heroic breed) between duty and, as the novel opens, earned respite from it — a quiet, art-centred life in remote Cornwall, with breaks for soulful cliff walks and gourmet meals prepared by his beautiful young Italian wife (also a spy).
His idyll is interrupted. After visiting an art dealer in London, he anticipates, but fails to stop, a suicide bomber from blowing up a group of innocents. So duty prevails when Allon is called on by Shamron, his old, but still leonine Mossad mentor, to collaborate with the CIA in an operation to eliminate the terror network behind the London bombing Allon witnessed, and similar ones in other European cities.
Gathering his formidable team of seasoned Mossad operatives, all brilliant, single-minded, tech-savvy — and did I mention fluent in Arabic? — Allon launches a daring peripatetic scheme, financially and logistically mounted through American largesse, but executed by Israelis working their spyware.
At the plan’s centre is Nadia al-Bakari, the reclusive billionaire heiress of a Saudi terror funder. Nadia’s tragic coming of moral age when her father, felled by an assassin’s bullet, dies in her arms, opens the door to a strange, but persuasive intimacy with Allon. Pledged to roll back her father’s bloody legacy, Nadia is the only one with the resources and credibility to lead Allon to his elusive targets. Can he trust her? He must gamble that he can.
The racy plot unfolds in Washington and, with tension-packed stops along the way in Paris and Dubai, climaxes, in the desolate Saudi Arabian desert, with a riveting showdown between Allon and terror honcho Rashid al-Husseinu, (modelled on the recently assassinated, American-born jihadist, Anwar al-Awlaki).
Terse, entertaining dialogues between Israeli and American agents reveal their mutually dependent, but mutually wary coalition. The White House won’t authorize American covert action in the “quasi-friendly” Saudi Arabia because “it could embarrass the regime,” but, as Shamron wryly notes, “Israelis running amok in Dubai is another matter.”
Israeli and American strengths and weaknesses complement each other. The CIA director says to Allon: “Our ability to collect information is unrivaled, but we’re too big and far too redundant to be effective.… Sometimes, it’s better to be small and ruthless. Like you.”
… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The child of Holocaust survivors, whose own wife and child were blown to pieces by a Palestinian terrorist, Gabriel is — in his creator’s words — a “reluctant destroyer.”
Allon is a free-lance art restorer but also covert Mossad hit man, dispatched to wherever frescoes are in disrepair, a pawn of his merciless boss, Israeli spymaster Ari Shamron.
The latest installment of Silva’s “accidental trilogy” is “A Death in Vienna” (Putnam). It follows “The English Assassin” and “The Confessor,” though Allon first appeared in Silva’s 2000 novel, “The Kill Artist.”
The trilogy has, by turns, dealt with what Silva calls “the unfinished business of the Holocaust.” While the pre-trilogy Allon book “The Kill Artist” was a fairly standard revenge tale, “The English Assassin” (2002) dealt with Nazi plunder concealed within the Swiss banking system, and “The Confessor” (2003) with Vatican participation (or lack thereof) during the Holocaust.
A Death in Vienna” again takes up Vatican dirty deeds, this time taking on the thorny topic of the postwar Vatican “ratline,” which smuggled high-ranking war criminals out of Europe.
“You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether Pius [XII, the pope during World War II] should have spoken out, or should this have happened, or whatever,” Silva said. “But to me, the most revealing aspect of the Vatican’s attitude toward the Holocaust [is] the fact that they helped guys like Franz Stangel [commandant of the Treblinka death camp] flee Europe after the war.
“The book is clearly inspired by the research I’d done for ‘The Confessor,’ ” he added. “In a lot of ways it’s ‘The Confessor,’ part two. … I was always fascinated by the morality of the Vatican, or arms of it, getting involved in the trafficking of Nazi war criminals after the war.”
Silva enjoys digging through old news. The author is a former journalist (and former Washington-based CNN producer) who is married to NBC “Today” correspondent Jamie Gangel.
The tales involving the Vatican lead to another one: American involvement in spiriting high-ranking Nazis out of Russian hands, primarily through the infamous OSS/CIA operation known as “Paperclip.”
“They weren’t the only ones,” Silva said of Vatican people-smuggling. “Our government did too, and they used not only German rocket scientists [such as Werner von Braun] and intelligence officers [such as Reinhard Gehlen, who became the father of West Germany’s postwar intelligence service], but guys who were in the SS and Gestapo. … It was very embarrassing for the U.S. to say in the 1980s, ‘Yeah, we employed Klaus Barbie.’ “
Not that Silva sees such activities as entirely unreasonable.”[The U.S.] saw a threat at the end of the war from the [USSR] for which it was completely unprepared, and it used the assets that were available. It was a question of realpolitik, it was bareknuckled intelligence,” he said.
“I’ve had lots of great debates and discussions with friends of mine about this — ‘Would you have done it? Would you have used SS officers?’ … I wish we hadn’t personally, I’m not pollyannish about it, I’d like to think that we wouldn’t knowingly hire people linked to the Final Solution to be our assets, but unfortunately that wasn’t true [at the time].”
… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
For Further Reference:
Author Daniel Silva’s Smart Take on Struggles that Exist in the Shadows Cast by Great Powers: Newt Gingrich, Fox News, July 22, 2019 — I was fortunate to speak with author Daniel Silva about Russia’s covert operations and his new spy novel, “The New Girl,” on this week’s episode of my “Newt’s World” podcast.