Saturday, September 4, 2010

THE SPY WE LOVE

The New York Times bestseller list is not the only indicator of Daniel Silva’s enormous  popularity. Closer to home, at the grass roots level, local libraries usually have a long list of readers anxious to catch up with the adventures of Mossad agent and art restorer Gabriel Allon.  Discussion ofAllon and company on Silva’s Facebook page is intense, as if s if his characters had come to life and joined the families of ardent  fans who no longer seem to separate fact from fiction. Why not? When  world leaders seek refuge in political correctness  and epicene intellectuals kneel at the altar of moral relativism, praying for absolution for absolve religious extremists and terrorists,   Allon crystallizes a very human  longing for absolutes—good guys are good and bad guys are bad. Simple. No grey areas. 
It would be a mistake to confuse simplicity with simple mindedness. Silva’s characters are, if anything, thinking people. Allon is more than that, he is an artist whose gift  as restorer of great paintings equals his talent to seek and neutralize enemies of Israel. He returns again and again to his first calling–-art. Again and again he leaves his work as a restorer to  fight for Israel, to restore, if only temporarily, the fragile canvas of his people’s peace and security.  In his universe, one that exists in the dual shadows of the Shoah and that of an Iranian nuclear holocaust, this is no simple choice, it is the  only choice.
But what is Israel to the readers  of semi-rural Sharpsburg, Maryland, a short three short miles away from Shepherdstown, West Virginia,  where only a few years  the local university presented a play designed to canonize Rachel Corrie while demonizing theTzahal (IDF)?   Why should they care about a Mossad agent  and his bride, the Venetian beauty Chiara? The credit goes to Silva, whose writing is as clear as a Galilean lake  and whose characters become at first reading,  welcome guests into one’s home. How can one not like self-effacing Allon, his cigar smoking mentor and spymaster,   Ari Shamron,  archaeologist and tracker par excellence Eli Lavon, bookish Yossi, sweet Dina, the dapper British art dealer Julian Isherwood?
It is a measure of Silva’s moral courage that while some Jewish writers jump  on politically correct bandwagon to denounce Israel in language that would make Ahmadinejad proud,  he  brings Israeli heroes to his readers. It is a measure of his readers open-mindedness that they respond with love and admiration.  His publisher, Putnam, ran out of review copies of his latest novel, the New York Times bestseller The Rembrandt Affair early in pre-launch season. Is spite of numerous e-mail messages and the eventual intervention of Silva’s wife,  NBC correspondent Jamie Gangel, I had no luck getting my review copy prior to the novel’s release date. His book  flew out of local libraries and it was only a few days ago that I was able to borrow it from the Sharpsburg, MD library. I am delighted to say that it was worth the wait. This is Silva’s best novel. It begins while the Allons are in Cornwall, recovering from their latest assignment. They have no intention of returning to active service. Shamron,the memuneh,  now an octogenarian, seems to have has resigned himself to the presence of a thinner and considerably better dressed Uzi Navot at helm of the Hamisrad  (the office).
All is calm until Julian Isherwood comes across a Rembrandt painting of Hendrickje Stoffels. There ensue the murder of  Gabriel’s fellow student and art restorer in quaint Glastonbury,  investigation of one of the  corrupt Swiss bankers who profited enormously from the Shoah. The investigation takes Gabriel and Chiara to Argentina, England Holland,  France,  Switzerland the United States. Along the way,   new  characters join the Allon team—a memory militant, an alluring reporter,  an engaging art thief. British and American intelligence agencies join Allon’s team when it becomes clear that the corrupt banker has ties with Iran. Throughout, Allon leads his team with same adroitness he  demonstrated in Silva’s previous novels. As usual, the plot is taut, the dialogue is skilfully crafted, the research on cutting edge electronic aids to espionage impeccable,  the historic facts accurate and the socioeconomic and political analysis spot on. What is more, this time around Silva replaces guns with Krav Maga. I can’t wait for movie with  Lior Ashnekenazi as Gabriel.

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