LA JOLLA, California — “I am not an Israeli intelligence agent, nor an assassin,” Daniel Silva replied when I asked if his character, Gabriel Allon, was autobiographical. However, after multiple, highly acclaimed novels, the New York Times bestselling author told me he trusts Gabriel’s character to direct the action, stating that he “knows his characters well, and they know me very well.” When Daniel Silva writes, he stated that, like most writers, each character created contains bits and pieces of that author.
Daniel Silva, born in Michigan, and coming of age in California, knew that he had a deep seated desire to become a writer, but set his sights on journalism as a career. While pursuing a Master’s degree in San Francisco, Silva was offered a post with United Press International. Working as a correspondent, he covered the Arab world, and all areas surrounding Israel. Silva recalled that this afforded him an “invaluable” education. It was during this same period, while covering the Iran-Iraq conflict, that he met, Jamie Gangel, an NBC correspondent, whom he married that same year.
The pair returned to Washington, DC where Silva became Executive Producer of CNN’s talk show unit. He was responsible for shows such as Crossfire, Capital Gang and Evans and Novak. In 1994, Silva could no longer quell his novelist’s pen and began writing his first book.
Silva’s lifelong fantasy became his reality in 1996, when his first novel, The Unlikely Spy, topped the NYT best-seller list, enabling him to leave CNN and focus on his writing. This immediate success and recognition surprised Silva, and established his loyal fan base for the subsequent novels, each more developed and intricate than its predecessor.
Daniel Silva was born a Catholic, but converted to Judaism as an adult. His sensibilities are conveyed through central character, Gabriel Allon, the Mossad Agent/Art Restorer. Silva said of Allon, “He restores more than paintings. He restores people, too.” Silva shared that he feels this concept of redemption and restoration is both a human trait and a Jewish ideal. The notion of tikkun olam or “putting things right” is a core attribute of Allon’s personality.
Silva’s role models for writing came from his early exposure to literature. He reported having read Steinbeck and London when growing up in California. Later, he sneaked Sidney Sheldon novels from his mother’s bedside table. One very powerful memory was a fourth grade teacher who would “dim the lights after recess and read to us.”
A voracious consumer of international news, Silva combs newspapers and non-print media daily. His appetite includes The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times and a host of magazines. I suppose once a news junkie, always a news junkie!
When I inquired about his training in Art History, Silva revealed that he had the usual intro Art History course in college, but that as a child he fondly recalls his mom “dragging me to museums.” His artistic preferences range from the Old Masters to Impressionists, to the Dutch and European painters. In response to my query as to the nature of art restorers, Silva reported that he works with one exclusively, and really admires his “attention to detail and the manner in which he goes about his craft.”
This author is fully committed to growth and improving with each of his novels. He exerts a lot of pressure on himself in every undertaking whether it is writing or athletics. With this in mind, each time a character returns in a new novel, Silva writes him with greater depth, allowing for his/her growth, maturation and alteration based on life experience. He focuses on the characters’ “lives, loves and families” first and foremost, and then on the action and plot twists.
I was curious to learn if this well respected author ever had the urge to rewrite a book that he’s published. Silva revealed that while he has an endless desire to tinker with a book, generally a deadline prevents him from looking backward.
Silva’s latest book, The Heist, will again feature art restorer, assassin and spy, Gabriel Allon, as he searches for a stolen Caravaggio, in this latest tale of intrigue and espionage.
“A Conversation with Daniel Silva” will be presented at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 24, at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, JACOBS FAMILY CAMPUS, at 4126 Executive Drive in La Jolla. Ticket Prices: $32 nonmembers and $27 members. This includes a signed copy of The Heist. Call (858) 362-1348 or www.sdjbf.org. Reserving tickets early will ensure a personal copy of this latest blockbuster.