Yes, indeed, I am still very immersed in the world of the master Israeli spy and assassin Gabriel Allon, and, as ever, am in awe of the amazingly topical plots and their totally unpredictable twists and turns, in the hands of the master, Daniel Silva.
Gabriel Allon and his world have been my non-stop summer reading and to my horror, I have only one book in the series left to read, and am already going into depression at the thought.
I started out in the early days of our brutal Delhi summer with Book 1, and have read them all, in order, finishing the excellent “The English Spy” just now, on a hot September afternoon here in Delhi.
I said just now that the plots are topical. They are, of course. That goes without saying. But Mr. Silva seems to be prescient, too, and it is this uncanny ability to have his pulse not only on the contemporary world scene but also almost see into the future, that makes his books so riveting.
“The English Spy” sees Gabriel Allon at work in Ireland, as he tries to defeat his old nemesis from earlier novels…but I really can’t tell you much more without being a complete spoil sport, so I won’t.
One of the leitmotifs that run through this totally absorbing and clever series is that of art. Jewish Gabriel is an art restorer of world renown, one of the world’s top restorers of Christian art, often undertaking commissions directly for the Vatican and for the Catholic churches of his beloved Venice. This unlikely pairing of violence and art, of Judaism and Catholicism, of killing and healing, is just one of the clever devices Mr. Silva uses to weave stories that draw you into them on so many different levels.
Gabriel is a hero like no other, one of fiction’s most decent, honourable men. He is modest, an Israeli who is not in the least bit religious. A man who loves Europe and the world of churches and art and history. A man who adores his drop-dead gorgeous wife, and who cherishes his first wife…oh dear, if anyone is reading this and doesn’t know the earlier books, I do hope I’m not spoiling things for you…
Gabriel is also, yet another contradiction in his psyche, a killer who has great compassion, as illustrated in his reaction when he sees a victim of a bomb attack:
“Gabriel made no reply. On the opposite side of the street, a woman with one arm and burns on her face was attempting to unlock the door of a dress shop. Gabriel supposed she was one of the wounded. There were more than two hundred of them that day: men, women, teenagers, small children. The politicians and the press always seemed to focus on the dead after the bombing, but the wounded were soon forgotten – the ones with scorched flesh, the ones with memories so terrible that no amount of therapy could put their minds at rest.”
Nearly all of the major characters who form Gabriel’s world make an appearance in the novel, including the wonderful Ari Shamron, who assumes almost Biblical stature in this description:
“…the chief of chiefs, the eternal one. He had formed the Office in his likeness, written its language, handed down its commandments, imparted its soul. Even now, in old age and failing health, he guarded his creation jealously.”
Sad to say, Israel and Israelis are often not the world’s favourite people, and so it is refreshing to be treated to the total decency and honesty and probity of Gabriel and his team. Speaking personally, here in India, we usually meet the aggressive young Israelis who flock to places like Ladakh and Himachal, and are, sadly, very often rude and unfriendly. Huge generalisation, I know, I know, but there were a couple of bruising encounters with hard-eyed unsmiling Israelis in Leh last time I was there. Sad.
So, hopefully without sounding too naive, to immerse oneself in the world of Gabriel Allon, is to restore one’s faith in a country and its people. Everyone in Gabriel’s ambit is passionate about Israel, but without being overtly religious. The love for their country shines through, as does their commitment to making sure the world does not forget the horrors of the Holocaust. The sights and sounds and light of Israel, the food and the wine and the sunsets, the dangers and the fear and the constant threats are just one of the many joys of these books. And, as I said, they restore one’s view of the country and its people.