Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Books: Daniel Silva Examines a Reform-Minded Saudi Prince In "The New Girl"

The New Girl
By Daniel Silva
Harper; hardcover, $28.99; available today, July 16

In his #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring Gabriel Allon, art restorer and assassin, Daniel Silva has long placed his finger on the pulse of contemporary geopolitics. With his much-anticipated twenty-second novel, The New Girl, Silva focuses a fictional lens on one of the world’s most controversial figures.

At an exclusive boarding school in Geneva, a new girl has arrived. Shrouded in mystery, she is said to be the daughter of a wealthy Egyptian businessman, but the secrecy and level of security surrounding her suggest otherwise.

Few know she is the daughter of Khalid bin Mohammed—or KBM, as he is known—the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who until recently was heralded as a social and religious reformer. Now much of KBM’s global support has given way to disgust in the wake of the brutal murder of a dissident journalist he is believed to have sanctioned.

At the end of an ordinary day, the new girl climbs into the backseat of her usual limousine to head home. It is the last time anyone at the school will see her.

KBM enlists the help of Gabriel Allon, the legendary chief of Israeli intelligence, who now finds himself in the most unlikely of alliances, helping the controversial, much-maligned crown prince of Saudi Arabia recover his kidnapped daughter.

Despite his excesses and the rumors of his brutality, KBM has pledged to finally break the bond between the Kingdom and radical Islam. For that reason alone, Gabriel considers him a valuable if flawed partner. Together these strange bedfellows will face a deadly secret war not only for the Saudi throne, but for control of the Middle East, with life of a child hanging in the balance.

In addition to Allon, KBM also seeks assistance from a seemingly unusual source: Sarah Bancroft, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who has worked as his unofficial adviser in the purchase of art.

KBM knows what few others do, that Sarah once worked for the CIA and that she has indelible connections to the art restorer turned master of espionage Gabriel Allon. But why would Gabriel, Israel’s top spy, aid a Saudi Muslim with a flawed reputation? Is KBM’s questionable pledge to finally break the bond between the Kingdom and radical Islam enough to spark such an unholy alliance?

“In August 2018, I commenced work on a novel about a crusading young Arab prince who wanted to modernize his religiously intolerant country and bring sweeping change to the Middle East and the broader Islamic world,” Silva writes in his foreword to the novel. “I set aside that manuscript two months later, however, when the model for that character, Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, was implicated in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for the Washington Post. Elements of The New Girl are quite obviously suggested by events surrounding Khashoggi’s death.” 

David Silva.
Silva says of the similarities between his fictional character and his real-life inspiration, "Prince Khalid, or KBM as he's known, is much more Westernized than Mohammed bin Salman. He was educated at Oxford and speaks perfect British-accented English. But he shares many of MBS's flaws, including avarice and a short fuse. He's also been implicated in the murder of a journalist, a man named Omar Nawwaf, who worked for the German magazine Der Spiegel. For that reason alone, Gabriel is reluctant to help Khalid. Suffice it to say, Gabriel Allon doesn't care for men who kill journalists...

"My fictitious Khalid bin Mohammed is a redeemable figure who truly wishes to change the Middle East. He's the Saudi we all hoped MBS would turn out to be. I admit, I was always skeptical about Mohammed bin Salman. I thought he was masquerading as a reformer in order to justify the palace coup that placed him next in line to the throne. Sadly, I think I've been proven right. A real reformer never would have countenanced the vicious murder of Jamal Khashoggi. So the short answer is no, I don't think MBS can be restored because he never was the person he claimed to be. Yes, he will be a useful regional counterweight to the Iranians. Yes, he will try to modernize his economy because he has no other choice. And yes, he will continue to slowly grant basic rights to Saudi women. But he will also torture and jail his opponents. And he will never undertake any political reform that threatens the family's grip on the Kingdom. That's why his father chose him. He knew that Mohammed wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger in order to preserve the dynasty and the Al Saud's hold on the country's oil wealth."

On the implicit warning of the rise of authoritarianism around the world in The New Girl, Silva says, "That's something of an understatement. Putin and Putinism - which is another word for neofascism - are on the march, and liberal democracy is suddenly out of vogue. We now have the equivalent of a czar in Russia, an emperor in China, and a sultan in Turkey. Moscow- leaning governments are in power in Hungary, Austria, and Italy. Frankly, I fail to see the attraction. Do you really want to live in a country where there is no freedom of the press? No freedom of speech or assembly? No freedom to read whatever you like on the Internet? Where the law is used as a weapon against political opponents? In believe the United States and the other liberal democracies should be making a concerted effort to confront the new authoritarians. We should be meddling in their politics rather than the other way around."

The New Girl features Silva's trademark dark humor and unrivaled talent for unexpected plot twists and unforgettable characters. He once again weaves a presciently relevant story of politics and rivalries in our dangerous world.

About Daniel Silva: He is the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the Assassin, The Marching Season, The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, Moscow Rules, The Defector, The Rembrandt Affair, Portrait of a Spy, The Fallen Angel, The English Girl, The Heist, The English Spy, The Black Widow, House of Spies, and The Other Woman. He resides in Florida with his wife, television journalist Jamie Gangel, and their twins, Lily and Nicholas.

Silva’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages and are bestsellers around the world. He has been interviewed on hundreds of radio and television programs, including NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, to discuss his books as well as politics, terrorism, and the Middle East.

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