The Eng­lish Girl: A Novel

  • Review
By – September 3, 2013

Daniel Silva’s art restor­er, Gabriel Allon, is once again reluc­tant­ly brought into ser­vice as an agent for the Office,” Israel’s intel­li­gence agency. The bril­liant under­cov­er oper­a­tive is help­ing his British coun­ter­part find a beau­ti­ful young woman who has dis­ap­peared on Cor­si­ca. She is the mis­tress of the prime min­is­ter and his career could be ruined if the affair were to become pub­lic. Gabriel’s search uncov­ers a far more com­pli­cat­ed sit­u­a­tion, lead­ing him to col­lab­o­rate with some unsa­vory char­ac­ters along with his Office colleagues.

Read­ers will not be able to put the book down. The action is non-stop, tak­ing them from Cor­si­ca to France to Great Britain to Rus­sia to Israel as fast as they can read. They will mar­vel at the com­plex rela­tion­ships and the inge­nious oper­a­tions of Allon and his crew. They will eager­ly antic­i­pate the next book as soon as they fin­ish this one because the author has dropped some intrigu­ing clues about future events in the life of Gabriel and his beau­ti­ful wife, Chiara. Although it would be a some­what untra­di­tion­al choice, The Eng­lish Girl would be inter­est­ing for book clubs because of the polit­i­cal and eth­i­cal issues that are part of the plot.


by Elise Coop­er

In his lat­est book, The Eng­lish Girl, Daniel Sil­va blends a riv­et­ing nar­ra­tive togeth­er with his­tor­i­cal con­tent that makes a very sus­pense­ful and intrigu­ing thriller. Also includ­ed in every Sil­va book is the restora­tion of a paint­ing that is some­how relat­ed to the plot. The main char­ac­ter, Gabriel Allon, is an art destor­er as well as an Israeli operative.

This nov­el has Allon doing a favor for the Eng­lish by try­ing to solve the kid­nap­ping of a ris­ing star in the British gov­ern­ment, Made­line Hart.

Elise Coop­er had the plea­sure of inter­view­ing Daniel Sil­va for the Jew­ish Book Council.

Elise Coop­er: You begin the book with a quote, He who lives an immoral life dies an immoral death.” Can you explain it?

Daniel Sil­va: It was a per­fect quote to add that lit­tle bit of Cor­si­can spice at the begin­ning of the book that was very rel­e­vant to the ulti­mate theme, just as I choose a paint­ing for some kind of visu­al con­nec­tion to the plot. By the way, for this book the paint­ing cho­sen is about a woman in peril.

EC: Can you tell the read­ers how the Gabriel Allon char­ac­ter came about?

DS: Gabriel Allon was nev­er sup­posed to be a con­tin­u­ing char­ac­ter. He was sup­posed to be in only one book and then to sail off into the sun­set. It did not turn out that way. I was talked into writ­ing a series; even then, I nev­er set out to write one about an Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cer. Once I made the com­mit­ment to a series, I decid­ed to write the char­ac­ters and their point of views. What­ev­er hap­pens in the series, Allon will always be at the cen­ter of the action. Allon and his col­leagues are unapolo­get­i­cal­ly Israeli and defend­ers of their coun­try. I couldn’t write a char­ac­ter that was wishy washy on Israel’s right to exist.

EC: Do the quotes in The Eng­lish Girl reflect your point of view?

DS: When Han­ni­bal Lecter talks about lik­ing to eat liv­er, no one asks the author, Thomas Har­ris, if he likes liv­er. Sim­i­lar­ly, with Gabriel Allon, Ari Sham­ron, and Adri­an Carter, they utter words that show who they are. I don’t agree with every­thing that comes out of my char­ac­ters’ mouths. For exam­ple, in Por­trait of A Spy, I have a jihadist who spouts off about Jihad and goes on an anti-Amer­i­can, anti-Israeli tirade. I don’t believe that, but that is what the char­ac­ter would say. A writer has to be a real­ly good mimic.

EC: In many of your books Rus­sia is the antag­o­nist. You have Gabriel say in the book: I’m going to prove to the civ­i­lized world once and for all that the cur­rent crowd sit­ting in the Krem­lin isn’t much bet­ter than the one that came before them.” Do you per­son­al­ly agree with Gabriel?

DS: I agree com­plete­ly with what Gabriel said in that sit­u­a­tion. Rus­sia is not our true bud­dy. I ful­ly con­cur with Gabriel’s sen­ti­ments. There is no day­light between Gabriel and myself with this one.

EC: There is a lot of his­to­ry in The Eng­lish Girl, from por­tray­ing Gabriel’s moth­er as a Holo­caust sur­vivor, to Gabriel swear­ing revenge after watch­ing Israeli ath­letes mur­dered at the Munich Olympics, to Gra­ham Sey­mour, the MI5 deputy direc­tor, inher­it­ing his father’s pas­sion for espi­onage but not his hatred of Israel, which stemmed from the King David Hotel bomb­ing in Jerusalem in 1946. Can you explain why you includ­ed these his­tor­i­cal facts?

DS: Gabriel Allon became what he is because of the attack on the Munich Olympics. He and his col­leagues are true to life in that respect. That is their reality. 

EC: Speak­ing of his­tor­i­cal back­ground, you once had Ari Sham­ron answer ques­tions from a fic­tion­al Piv­ot Ques­tion­naire.” There was a won­der­ful quote from him: Peace is my favorite word. I’ve nev­er known a sin­gle day’s peace in my life. Not in Poland. Not here. I would like to know what peace feels like before I die.” Can you explain the quote?

DS: Well yes, that is who Sham­ron is. The real­i­ty of the life of Ari Sham­ron is that he grew up in Poland and had his entire fam­i­ly wiped out in the Holo­caust. He fled to what was then Pales­tine and arrived in the midst of the Arab upris­ing, fol­lowed by the War of Inde­pen­dence that fol­lowed. Then he had to deal with war upon war upon war. You can also say that the quote is back­ground music to some scenes in this cur­rent thriller.

EC: What do you want the read­er to gain from The Eng­lish Girl?

DS: I want­ed to talk about Rus­sia and its quest to be a glob­al ener­gy play­er. I want­ed to talk about the human rights sit­u­a­tion there. I was very much influ­enced and inspired by the Russ­ian sleep­er mole case that took place in the U.S. a cou­ple of years ago. With that said, this book was great fun to write. I see it as a lighter work than I have writ­ten in some time. I think this book is the purest enter­tain­ing, sum­mer page-turn­er thriller.

EC: I would agree and add that The Eng­lish Girl is com­pelling, infor­ma­tive, and fun­ny, with a riv­et­ing sto­ry that read­ers will be unable to put down. 

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions