On Reading Fiction in 2016

Daniel Silva has been called one of our generation’s finest writers of international intrigue, a spy novelist extraordinaire. I was introduced to one of Silva’s novels by a pastor friend several years ago. I confess the book he recommended was so compelling, haunting, and brilliant that I could hardly put it down. I finished it in just a few days. Thus began what turned out to be a “love affair” with the fiction of this popular writer. Almost all of Silva’s books have reached #1 New York Times bestselling status within months of their publication. His fan base is huge. I am numbered among them now.

Silva’s first book, situated in World War II, was The Unlikely Spy (1997). It is a novel of love and deception set around the Allied invasion of France. His second and third novels, The Mark of the Assassin and The Marching Season, were instant New York Times bestsellers and starred two of Silva’s most memorable characters: CIA officer Michael Osbourne and international hit man Jean-Paul Delaroche. I was hooked by reading The Mark of the Assassin and then decided this year to go back and read Silva’s novels in their publication sequence. I finished the most recent one, The Black Widow (2016), yesterday.

Daniel Silva knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a writer, but began his career as a journalist. He was pursuing a master’s degree in international relations when he received a temporary job offer from United Press International to help cover the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. As a result of this assignment, he would abandon his degree studies and join UPI full-time. Eventually, he became UPI’s Middle East correspondent in Cairo and the Persian Gulf.

In 1995 Silva confessed to his wife, NBC Today Correspondent Jamie Gangel, that his true ambition was to be a novelist. With her support and encouragement, he secretly began work on the manuscript that would eventually become the instant bestseller The Unlikely Spy. He left CNN in 1997 after the successful publication of this first book and began to write full-time. Since then all of Silva’s books have been New York Times and international bestsellers. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is currently at work on his twentieth novel.

I have learned more about Israel, valuable art and the work of restoring art, the inner life and work of Israeli spies, various parts of modern Europe, terrorism and the modern global threats of ISIS, from Daniel Silva that from all my news sources. While I remain well aware that this is fiction it is fiction rooted in a great deal of contemporary reality. But it is so much more. It is just good writing with well-developed characters. The plots are different enough to keep you guessing and each book ends making you want more. (You can begin anywhere but I recommend reading his first book, The Unlikely Spy, first. If you want to read the more contemporary Gabriel Allon series then begin with The Kill Artist.)

Last night I embarked on reading Shusaku Endo’s book, Silence (1969). This is an entirely different novel for me and was translated from the original Japanese into English in 1980. An adaptation of this novel, directed by the famed Martin Scorsese, will appear widely in theaters in early 2017. I decided to read the novel first. Endo has been called “the Graham Greene” of Japan. This book has been translated into many languages. The theme is the story of Christianity in Japan and the period of martyrdom in the seventeenth century. Even within the church in Japan the novel has been a sensation. Endo believes, as I do, that a Hellenized Christianity must adapt to take deep root in cultures outside the West, especially if they are in Asia.

I only began to appreciate fiction later in my life. I was raised with a rather Puritan view of literature that I finally gave up about twenty-five years ago. It was my friend J. I. Packer who told me about his reading at night, which helped to induce rest and sleep for his busy mind, that helped me begin to enjoy fiction. Such reading now expands my enjoyment of art, feeds my imagination, informs my spirit in a unique way and employs many gripping story-forms to keep me thinking in fresh and creative ways.

2 Comments on “On Reading Fiction in 2016”

  1. Thanks John! I love fiction for precisely the same reasons you say and for one more: A well-developed fictional character often leaves me changed in the knowledge of what it means to be human, to live with difficult realities, to seek good in a fallen world. Story has power. And the best stories capture something of our collective experience and push us to be better.

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