A Masterful , and Unsettling, Spy Novel

In The Black Widow, Daniel Silva brings back the hero of several previous thrillers—the Israeli superspy-cum-art restorer Gabriel Allon, who vanquishes enemies and wins women with equal ease—to do battle against Islamic State, which, at the novel’s beginning, bombs a French conference on anti-Semitism. While Adam Kirsch deems the book satisfyingly thrilling, with plot twists, excitement, and suspense, he finds unsettling its perceptiveness about present-day reality:

The Black Widow . . . converge[s] with reality in ways that threaten the escapist pleasures it is supposed to offer. In an author’s note, Silva indicates that he finished The Black Widow after the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher massacres of January 2015. But the book must have been written before the even deadlier attacks in Paris last November, and in Brussels in March of this year, and the Orlando nightclub shooting this summer. In other words, Silva’s fictional IS bombing was preceded and followed by a string of real-life IS atrocities, some directed against Jews, others against gays, still others against random Europeans and Americans

The intensely present reality of IS terrorism means that Silva’s fictional treatment of it has a difficult choice to make. The thriller form strongly pushes for a happy ending: somehow, we want and expect Gabriel Allon to track down [the perpetrator], thwart the next bombing, and put an end to the IS threat. As readers, we want to suspend our disbelief. But how can we, in the face of daily headlines that bring more and more violence? . . . How can a fictional hero conquer an actual threat?

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More about: Arts & Culture, Fiction, Islamic State, Israel & Zionism, Mossad, Terrorism

On Thanksgiving, Remember the Exodus from Egypt

Nov. 27 2020

When asked to design a Great Seal of the United States, Benjamin Franklin proposed a depiction of Moses at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, while Thomas Jefferson suggested the children of Israel in the wilderness after departing Egypt. These proposals, writes Ed Simon, tapped into a venerable American tradition:

The Puritans from whom Franklin descended had been comparing their own arrival in the New World with the story of Exodus for more than a century. They were inheritors of a profoundly Judaic vision, melding the stories of the Hebrew scripture with their own narratives and experiences. . . .

For the Puritans, Exodus was arguably a model for understanding their own lives and history in a manner more all-encompassing and totalizing than for any other historical religious group, with the obvious exception of the Jews. . . . American Puritans and pilgrims like John Mather, John Winthrop, John Cotton, . . . and many others placed the Exodus at the center of their vision, seeing their own fleeing from an oppressive England and a Europe wracked by the Thirty Years’ War to an American “Errand Into the Wilderness” as a modern version of the Israelites’ escape into Canaan. . . . [Thus the] Exodus . . . has become indispensable in comprehending the wider American experience. Through the Puritans, the story of Exodus became a motivating script for all manner of American stories. . . .

We read its significance and prophetic power in accounts of slaves who escaped the cruelty of antebellum plantation servitude, and who crossed the Ohio River as if it were the Sea of Reeds. . . . We see it in photographs of the oppressed escaping pogroms and persecution in the Old World, and in the stories of later generations of refugees. Exodus is an indispensably Jewish story, but what more appropriate day than Thanksgiving, this most American and Puritan (and “Jewish”?) of holidays, to consider the role that that particular biblical narrative has had in defining America’s civil religion?

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More about: American founding, American Religion, Exodus, History & Ideas, Thanksgiving, Thomas Jefferson