Author’s Imagination Presages Recent Incidents of Terrorism

Hint: If you’ve read any of his other No. 1 bestselling novels, you miiight have an idea of where The Black Widow landed.

Daniel Silva was eagerly awaiting to hear where his latest installment in his series following Israeli spy-slash-art-restorer Gabriel Allon placed on The New York Times bestseller list when he appeared for an event at Gratz College on July 19.
Hint: If you’ve read any of his other No. 1 bestselling novels, you miiight have an idea of where The Black Widow landed.
Silva joined Bruce Holberg, former chairman of the Gratz College Board of Governors, on stage for a Q&A style discussion during an event held by AMIT Philadelphia Council/Shira Chapter.
“Every year he writes a new book, and he’s Jewish and he believes in contributing back to the Jewish community in the way of doing these events,” said Robbie Pearlstein, AMIT mid-Atlantic regional director. “I’m thinking he’s been doing this for four or five years for AMIT.”
The event gave an audience who might not have ever heard of AMIT — which operates schools and villages and other programs to help educate Israeli youth — or who haven’t been to one of its events a chance to become familiar with the organization. Its events are usually held on the Main Line, Pearlstein said.
“This is a step-out-of-a-box situation,” Pearlstein said, “and I thought it was a good opportunity to use the Daniel Silva event because he’s so well-known and [well-] loved that people would come out because of him. For us, to have people have the opportunity to hear about our organization — I hope they learned about the critical work we’re doing in Israel.”
Silva talked to the full auditorium about his writing process (no outlines, Mirado Black Warrior No. 2 pencil by Paper Mate handwritten on a Signa by Staples legal pad), his favorite novel to write (The Black Widow) and whether we’ll ever see Gabriel Allon again (this answer was more cryptic, but you might soon be able to see Allon in action via a long-form TV show).
The Black Widow tackles some very harrowing and fascinating subject matter that might feel a little too realistic: ISIS.
In the novel, Allon joins forces with his Israeli intelligence colleagues, as well as those from other countries — some of whom he never wanted to work with — to try and infiltrate ISIS’ neo-caliphate and stop another attack before it’s too late.
The book opens with the scene of a bombing in Paris, which reads with the unfortunate familiarity of watching a report of the bombing on the evening news. That’s because Silva began writing the manuscript for The Black Widow and then, a few months later in November, the nonfictional bombing in Paris took place.
“It was as if I had written about planes flying into the World Trade Center before 9/11,” Silva said to the audience.
While it did give him a moment of pause to consider whether he wanted to continue the story or start a new one, he ultimately created what was his favorite to write.
“I decided last July I was going to tackle ISIS in my new book and, at that time, ISIS hadn’t gone global yet, it hadn’t gone international,” Silva noted.
He also had thoughts of his own on ISIS and addressed them in the book — though, he said, responders to the fictitious attack in The Black Widow had a much more sensible response: They called Gabriel Allon.
“There were a number of politicians and learned terrorism experts who said that ISIS would not attack the West,” he said. “I thought, quite frankly, they were out of their minds, that it was only a matter of time that ISIS attacked the West.”
The book also largely deals with anti-Semitism in France. That’s a topic Silva had previously addressed through his character Hannah Weinberg and through another character in this novel, who also served as the heroine.
He commented incredulously on the large number of Jews in France who are fleeing to Israel for safety.
“Each year,” he said, “there are literally thousands and thousands and thousands of documented cases of anti-Semitism — property damage, gravestones vandalized, graffiti, physical attacks in the most extreme cases — and each year thousands and thousands of Jews are packing their bags and moving to Israel. I pose a question in the afterword of this book. I said I can think of no other religious or ethnic minority that is fleeing Western Europe … Jews in France are saying I’d rather take my chances in Israel than in Paris or Lyon or Toulouse or Nice. Thank God Israel is there for them, and Gabriel Allon is looking over their shoulder.”
Silva spent nearly an hour answering questions submitted to Holberg by audience members who wanted to know more about his thoughts on Israel and whether or not ISIS is shrinking as many say it has.
One asked if he was ever frightened by what he’s written, to which he responded that he considers himself the “Mayor of Realville.”
Commenting on the current state of ISIS’ caliphate, he was concerned about whether the right steps are being taken and noted President Obama’s involvement.
“What we’ve seen in the last year or so,” he said, is the notion that the “fantasy” of a two-state solution “has sort of quietly died, and it’s interesting that it died on Obama’s watch, of all people.”
In talking about the characters he created in The Black Widow, like the heroine, a French-Jewish doctor who is disguised as a Palestinian to infiltrate ISIS’ network, and its — for all intents and purposes — villain, the leader of this network called only by his nom de guerre Saladin, he advised, “I think it’s really important to take these guys at their word.”
“I think we should listen to what they say, read what they write and understand what their ambitions are,” Silva said, “and not just dismiss it out of hand by calling them something so silly as the ‘JV’ team or un-Islamic. I’m sure if this administration could rewind the tape, they would have done a lot of things differently. They overlearned the lessons of Iraq and Syria, and they under-learned them in Libya.”
By the end of the discussion, Silva had been asked some lighter questions, such as what future role Allon might take. At the end of the novel Allon assumes the position of chief of Israeli intelligence.
For Silva, The Black Widow is a surprise in every form. It’s the 16th novel in the series following a character who was never supposed to be a recurring name. For it to be the No. 1 bestselling novel in a series that wasn’t supposed to happen, Silva is humble and proud.
And while he did acknowledge that he does want to write other stories outside of Allon’s world, that doesn’t mean that he’s done.
“I have this beautiful dilemma in that each year my sales for this series go like this,” he said, gesturing his arm upward.
“Only a total idiot or someone who’s certifiably insane would stop writing this series altogether. The only way to do something else and continue to write Gabriel Allon is to write two books a year,” he revealed to a cheering crowd. “If I had to guess, it would happen sooner than you might think.”
In the meantime, he has enjoyed the surprising success of Allon’s story.
“Who knew this nice Jewish boy,” Silva laughed. “An Israeli Jewish guy who is quite literally one of the biggest things in publishing — who would’ve guessed?”
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