Portrait of a Spy
Many think of novels as being purely fictitious. Portrait of a Spy, Daniel Silva's latest, is a superb story. His goal is to write an entertaining book, yet one based on reality. This is an exciting, action-packed thriller that takes the reader on a journey through such locales as England, Paris, Washington DC, Saudi Arabia, and New York. It examines the important issues of the day that include terrorism, Islamic women's rights, and the two faces of Saudi Arabia. He discussed his book with American Thinker.
The first few chapters explore the potential terrorist strategy: multiple suicide bombings, with conventional weapons, that take place in different European cities, for the purpose of creating fear. Paris was chosen because the facial veil was banned; Copenhagen because of the cartoons depicting Mohammed; and London because it has become an easy target. The novel is based on reality: former CIA Director Michael Hayden remarked to American Thinker that the new terrorist strategy will be "less sophisticated, less well organized, less likely to be lethal, if they do succeed, more numerous."
In this book the characters definitely drive the plot. The main male character in Silva's last eleven novels is Gabriel Allon, named after the Archangel. He is a semi-retired Israeli operative that works closely with the American and British intelligence with a cover as an art restorer. This character is extremely well-developed and becomes a very likable figure through the understanding of his desires, fears, and apprehensions. On the surface the reader might think that an operative and art restorer are not compatible. However, Silva artfully combines the two by explaining in the book that Allon "believed it was the duty of a restorer to come and go without being seen, leaving no evidence of his presence ... standing before the easel, he had total control."
The main female character is a moderate Muslim, Nadia al-Bakari, who steps up to the plate to ensure that the extremists do not prevail. Silva explained that he created this character based on the "influence of the Christ story and pulled a lot from the Biblical text. I wanted to make her a Christ-like figure." Terrorism was only a backdrop in this plot, with the main story focusing on a very brave, courageous woman who wants to change the Islamic world. She is recruited by Allon as an operative to help bring down a Yemen Al Qaeda-like network led by an American cleric.
Anyone who is skeptical about Nadia's ability to change the landscape must think back to the 1990s where the Protestant and Catholic women took charge to forge a peace in Northern Ireland. The theme of the book is that change must come but it will come only from within the Islamic world, which is what Nadia represents. She is a moderating influence, a reformer, who is disgusted that Islamic women are denied basic human rights. Silva explained, "Women of the Arab Islamic world are the key to change since they represent more than half of the population. Yet, they sit on the sidelines, living under the veil." He hammered the point home by this quote in the book: "Nadia al-Bakari, one of the world's richest women, would have the rights of a camel. Fewer, she thought resentfully, for even a camel was permitted to show its face in public."
Anyone disgusted with the biased media will find Zoe Reed an interesting character. She is described in the book as an "orthodox left-wing journalist" who combats her core values with the realism of the world. Silva in a statement made by Allon, points out that being politically correct comes at a price: "Do you still think we should fight these monsters in ways that don't compromise your core values? Or would you like to return briefly to the real world and help us save innocent lives?"
The antagonist, an American cleric living in Yemen, Rashid al-Husseini, sounds very similar to Anwar al-Awlaki. Silva told American Thinker that he wanted his character to resemble the real Yemen cleric, al-Awlaki, who was "preaching in a Mosque five miles from my house. I looked at the record and in my mind there is no question that this guy was connected to 9/11. After 9/11 he was the voice of moderation and now he is this raging lunatic. I am sorry but I don't believe it; he was always like that and was lying to us earlier."
Furthermore, in this novel Rashid was being supported with Saudi money and the double game of Saudi intelligence that appears to be combating the jihadists while at the same time supporting them. When asked about the Saudi attitude, Silva replied that people should have "no illusions about Saudi Arabia. It is a classic straddling state just like Pakistan, but not quite as extreme. Saudi Arabia remains an ATM machine [sic] for Islamic extremists. A lot of money continues to flow to various strains of Islamic extremism. Its amazing to me that they view it as having no choice." A former operative thinks the problem, as mentioned in the novel, is with Saudi individual donors who give charity to dirty organizations. Fran Townsend, President Bush's Homeland Security Advisor, who was referred to in this book, commented to American Thinker that "the Saudi Government has made progress in the area of terrorist financing, with the help of the US Treasury Department, but there still remains a good deal of progress which has yet to be achieved."
Since Silva's main character is an Israeli operative, did he delve into another issue -- the US-Israel relationship? He responded that in the novel he tried to show that the relationship is very good between the two countries at the intelligence and military level, unlike the relationship at the political level. His sources, senior Israeli officials, emphasized that "Israeli and American intelligence really do operate quite closely together, which was brought about by President George W. Bush who really broke down the barriers of mistrust. He made it possible for the Israelis and Americans to operate jointly together."
His next novel will still have Allon and many of the same cast of characters. Unfortunately, Silva fans will have to wait a whole year to find out Gabriel Allon's new assignment. Silva gave a hint to American Thinker: "I have a great idea and I am very excited about it. I just got back from a three week trip to Italy and Israel, spending a great deal of time inside the Vatican."
Daniel Silva's latest novel, Portrait of a Spy, is a like a fine wine that should be savored to absorb all the details. It explores a lot of current issues through the well-developed character's eyes. Silva wanted the reader to get a sense of hope, "sticking a knife in the laps of the beasts to change the world. This novel is a play on real martyrdom as opposed to this crazy idea that you blow people up and you are considered a martyr. Playing off the famous Jihadist quote, Nadia believed in life, not death and destruction," which is exactly what this book portrays.