Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A MOSLEM WOMAN OF VALOR


  There are two ways to read a Daniel Silva novel. The first is to gobble it up in one go;the second is to savor it slowly and voluptuously.      Full disclosure, I have tried both approaches and found that either way, I remain an admirer of Silva’s clean, elegant prose   brilliant plots and no-nonsense analysis of what goes on among those in the dark side and those who fight it. PORTRAIT OF A SPY, Silva’s latest novel featuring art restorer turned Mossad agent Gabriel Allon, proves yet again the art of suspenseful storytelling, the answer is that it remains in  masterful hands.
In PORTRAIT OF A SPY, Silva revisits Gunwalloe, the idyllic Cornish village where Allon and his alluring wife Chiara have returned after he helped blow up Iranian nuclear facilities. There, he works on a painting discovered by dapper London art dealer Julian Isherwood while Chiara entertains thought of taking over Isherwood’s gallery. After all Isherwood claims that he wants to retire and Allon has no intention of going back to hunting and neutralizing terrorists.
As it often happens in real life, reality intrudes on this dream world. Jihadis detonate bombs in Paris, Copenhagen and London, killing dozens of people and shattering Allon’s resolve “ to treat the Office like a jilted lover. Contact had to be kept to a minimum and it was best conducted in public places where a messy scene would be inappropriate. “
This time, the Office comes to him, in the person of its new chief, Uzi Navot. He makes the sort of appeal to Allon that a man of integrity cannot ignore. And Allon is, above all, the personification of the Elie Wiesel quote Silva chose as an epigraph, “A person of integrity can make the difference of life and death.”
To help make that difference, Allon assembles his own reliable team: unassuming archaelogist and tracker Eli Levon, Dina Sarid, the human database, Mikhail Abramov, a glacial marksman described as “Gabriel without a conscience”, veteran agent runner Yossi Rossner, former military intel officer Rimona Stern, Oded and Mordechai, “all purpose field hands.” Since this hunt for the terrorist behind the bombings is to be an international effort, the CIA insists upon adding agent Sarah Bancroft to the group. For all that, no Allon op is complete without infuriating, meddlesome, fatherly, lovable and indispensable Ari Shamron, former Mossad chief and Allon’s mentor. He rounds out the cast of characters some Silva readers have come to regard as real people.
Together, the members of the group decide to recruit someone to infiltrate the jihadi network. They decide on a Moslem woman, Nadia al-Bakari who happens to be the daughter of the late Zizi al-Bakari , a terrorists Allon and Abramov assassinated.
In a world rife with moral and political ambiguity, characters such as Allon and his team are strangely reassurance. Perhaps part of their evergreen appeal is that readers hope . Without that possibility, it is difficult to contemplate the possibility that “There exist in the world today a force that seeks to weaken or even destroy the West with indiscriminate violence. This force is part of a broader radical movement to impose sharia law and restore the Islamic Califate.”
Who can fight this force better than Nadia, a Moslem woman of valor? Silva paints her portrait as loving as Allon restores paintings of Old Masters. Her beauty and her compassion shine brilliantly throughout the novel. She is, in many ways, Gabriel’s perfect counterpart. Her aim is to make a difference, to improve the lot of the poor, the dispossessed and the oppressed. She uses her privileged position to talk openly about helping Moslem women realize their potential. She refuses to close her eyes to the suffering of the guest workers in places such as Dubai and she is willing to risk her life to rid Islam of the taint of terrorism. What happens as a result of her choice’s and Allon’s make PORTRAIT OF A SPY a breathtaking read. It is all good except for one problem, now I have to wait for Silva’s next novel.
NOTE: There is an interesting revelation in PORTRAIT OF A SPY. It is so discreet it almost goes unnoticed. Ever reluctant to come to terms with the brutal requirement of killing his fellow humans, regardless of their crimes, Gabriel rejects Shamron's plea that he return to Israel to taker over the Office. In previous novels he declines   to take up the Sysiphean burden  that has been the memuneh's s life's work.
 Again and again Shamron addresses him as "my son. " His implicit appeal goes unheeded. Now, for the first time, Gabriel's replies,
"Yes, Abba--father."
This seems to indicate that he is finally willing to accept his place in the order of things. When I asked Daniel Silva about it, his answer was,
"I think so."
Do you think so too or do you know of another Silva novel in which Gabriel addressed Shamron as "abba"?

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