Imagine being hundreds of pages deep into a manuscript for a work of fiction when the actions of your book actually become reality.
Do you continue writing it?
What if those actions revolved around ISIS and terror attacks in European countries?
That was the question The New York Times bestselling author Daniel Silva had to answer when he was working on the manuscript of his latest novel, The Black Widow — whose vivid opening chapter includes a bombing in Paris — and the terror attacks in Paris that were carried out.
Silva appeared at Gratz College July 19 as part of an event by AMIT Philadelphia Council/Shira Chapter and talked beforehand about his decision among other topics, such as his writing process and current events.
In The Black Widow, Gabriel Allon joins forces with his Israeli intelligence colleagues, as well those from other countries (including ones he previously never wanted to work with), to stop ISIS from carrying out another attack before it’s too late.
In a foreword to the book, which was released July 12, Silva acknowledges that he started work on the novel prior to the events in Paris and suggests that readers imagine the events only take place on the pages as opposed to the tragic reality.
“I just felt that I had to finish what I started, and then I wanted to say something about ISIS and the threat that it poses,” Silva said in a phone interview. “What I wrote, it was essentially the same tactics, the same personnel, the same everything, and so it was just enough to give me a real jolt and I was saddened by it, I mean, obviously.
“At the time, I was in Washington [D.C.] working, and my house is around the corner from the French embassy and you can see the flowers piling up at the memorial, and it was very upsetting, obviously. It did give me a moment ‘Should I continue?’
I just decided I wanted to continue. I wanted to do it. I wanted to finish it as I conceived it, and the result is that I think I clearly wrote one of the best books in the series, if not the best book.”
The central mission in the novel centers on Allon et al as they try to infiltrate ISIS by sending a French-Israeli doctor disguised as an ISIS recruit.
The subject matter is fascinating and, at times, chilling and was Silva’s response to how he perceived the U.S. stance in regards to ISIS.
“I did not share the opinion of some of our policymakers at that time when I started working on the book at that time, that ISIS was not a threat to us,” Silva explained. “The fact that this organization controlled this hugely vital important piece of land so close to Europe, right in the heart of the Middle East, it was obviously, obviously — to use a terrible cliché — it was a game-changing development in the Middle East.
“The resurrection of something like a neo-caliphate was a hugely important development,” he continued. “It could not be written off and dismissed, and I felt it was really only a matter of time before they stopped focusing on the region and turn their guns outward. I really felt that Europe was going to be the first to be hit, and France was probably the most likely target. And that all turned out to be the case.”
Of course, he just wasn’t expecting it to come true that way.
This is the 16th novel in which protagonist Gabriel Allon appears, and no one is more surprised by the character’s success and popularity than Silva.
“The most important thing to remember about Gabriel is that he was never supposed to be a continuing character, so that makes him interesting from the beginning,” he said with a laugh.
“I didn’t think he would work as a continuing character. I thought there was too much anti-Israeli sentiment in the world for him to work. I thought, frankly, there was too much anti-Semitism for him to work. No one is more surprised that he’s a perennial No. 1 bestseller than I am.”
The dual sides to Allon’s character are what, Silva believes, might make him so appealing. That he’s an Israeli intelligence operative and spy is certainly interesting and gives an otherwise restricted view into that lifestyle, but he’s also an art restorer who touches up famous paintings from van Gogh to Caravaggio.
Those two sides to his personality, Silva notes, might entice readers who wouldn’t necessarily “pick up a book about espionage or international intrigue fiction.”
By the end of the book, Allon is sitting in his office as the new chief of Israeli intelligence — “which, by the way, I never, never could have possibly imagined at the beginning,” Silva laughed — having wrapped up one of the most risky and bold missions.
“There are characters from other countries’ intelligence services that have made regular appearances in the books,” Silva said. “The series is nicely positioned to continue on with him in this new role.”
Does this mean this will be the last novel with Allon since he’s in a comfortable new position?
“I have a golden rule about not discussing books that aren’t written,” Silva answered. “So I’m going to hold myself to that golden rule. I’m not going to talk about anything about the future.”
When he does write that next book (sure to be as successful as the last and the last and …), he will continue following the writing process he has always followed. No outlines, no road maps.
His novels are full of twists and turns — The Black Widow definitely no exception — some that he doesn’t even see coming. The twists in The Black Widow certainly surprised him — he wouldn’t say which ones due to potential spoilers — but he hopes that it also entertained readers.
“The first thing I want is for them to be entertained. It is a work of entertainment,” he emphasized. “It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s heartbreaking, it’s scary, it’s got a lot of elements to it. It does do two things: It is an entertaining story, and you’re also going to learn something along the way, and I think that’s OK.”
In the time between now and his next release, he continues to be surprised and humbled by the success of his character.
“It’s not often the 16th book in the series gets across-the-board starred reviews in every industry publication,” he reflected. “I’m very proud of that.”
Note: This interview was conducted prior to the terror attacks in Nice, France.
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