Authors & Events
Jan 29, 2008
| ISBN 9780515144345
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Jan 29, 2008 | ISBN 9780515144345
#1 New York Times BestsellerWinner of the Edgar® AwardDrawing from his experience as a correspondent in Iraq, Alex Berenson exploded onto the thriller scene with this perfectly crafted, highly-acclaimed debut novel—“a timely reminder of the extremely precarious way we live now” (The Washington Post).Years ago, John Wells was an all-American boy from Montana. Now, he is roaming the mountains of Pakistan as a member of al Qaeda. After a decade away from home, he despises the United States for its decadence. He hates America’s shallow, mindless culture of vice and violence. He is a devout Muslim. He is a brave warrior for Allah.He is a CIA operative. And he is coming home…
Alex Berenson is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the John Wells series, including The Faithful Spy, which won the 2007 Edgar Award for best first novel. As a reporter for The New York Times, Berenson covered topics ranging from the occupation of Iraq—where he… More about Alex Berenson
“A well-crafted page-turner that addresses the most important issue of our time. It will keep you reading well into the night.”—Vince Flynn“Berenson offers a very American story—a sort of terrorist High Noon…exciting.”—The New York Times “A hold-your-breath thriller…a grabber.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch “An intriguing thriller studded with alarming possibilities.”—New York Daily News“A thriller worthy of Le Carré.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In late 2003, after coming back from almost three months in Iraq asa reporter for The New York Times, Alex Berenson decided to writea novel that would explore the complexities of the fight against terrorismin the post-9/11 era. That novel, The Faithful Spy, is beingpublished by Random House in April 2006. Berenson explains whyhe made the switch to fiction, what al Qaeda has in common withthe CIA—and why Keanu Reeves is his new favorite actor.Q: You’re a reporter by trade. Why did you decide to write a novel?Alex Berenson: As a reporter, you have to follow certain rules, ofwhich the most basic is to tell the factual truth. Once you unmooryourself from the facts you’re not a reporter any more. To be blunt,you’re lying. And I never forget that, not when I’m working for TheNew York Times. But sticking to the facts can be frustrating. Sometimes you can’tget the facts, no matter how hard you try. You have to leave questionsunanswered. I wanted to see how it would feel to build a worldwhere for once I had all the facts, and I knew what everyone wasthinking.Q: So? How did it feel?AB: Pretty good. They lie to each other all the time, my characters.Sometimes they even lie to themselves. But they always tell me thetruth.Q: You’re probably not the first author to feel that way. Why a spythriller specifically?AB: I liked the tension and the speed. Maybe one day I’ll try myhand at literary fiction, something slower-paced. But for my firstnovel I wanted to write a tight book, a book that would keep readersin suspense until the last page, that would be gritty and real andbuild to a conclusion that feels surprising and inevitable at the sametime. Also, and maybe this is cruel, I wanted to see how my heroeswould react to extreme pressure. John Wells has worked for yearsand years to build his cover inside al Qaeda and along the way he’slost the trust of the CIA. Now he’s as alone as a human being can be.Meanwhile, Jennifer Exley, his handler at the agency, has also giveneverything up for her job—her marriage, her children. Yet they bothknow they must keep fighting, that they can’t afford to give up, becauseQaeda will never give up.Q: Why a modern thriller, instead of, say, one set during World WarII or the Cold War?AB: The topic resonated for me. I live in New York. I work about ahundred feet from Times Square. I think New Yorkers feel terrorisma little bit more viscerally than other Americans. I think we all feelwe’re going to get hit again sooner or later. Then of course I saw the other side of the coin firsthand as a reporter for the Times in Iraq, where the United States is intersecting with Islam every day, for better and worse. Our effort to reshape theArab world, to reshape Islam—because that’s what we’re doing,let’s be honest—is one of the great stories of the first part of thetwenty-first century. I don’t know whether we’ll succeed or fail. ButI wanted to write a book that would comment on that effort.Q: The terrorists in your book are all Muslim. Do you think somereaders will feel that’s unfair?AB: If they do, they’re deluding themselves. Yes, terrorists come inall shapes and sizes. But Muslim terrorists are by far the greatestthreat to the United States, and Europe, too. Across the world, fromAlgeria to Indonesia, hundreds of millions of Muslims are strugglingfor survival. They’re angry at their leaders, and they’re looking fora solution. In Europe, millions of young Muslim men are alienatedand unemployed. Fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden offer them an answer:Blame the United States. Blame Israel. Blame your leaders, becausethey aren’t real Muslims. Go to war to reclaim the glory of Islam.Americans are killing Iraqi civilians. Give the infidels a taste of theirown medicine. That message is attractive for people who don’t haveanything.Q: Then are you saying you’re sympathetic to bin Laden?AB: Not at all. His methods and his goals are repugnant. Even inwar, deliberately targeting civilians is criminal. And I suspect thatvery few Americans would want to live under a Muslim theocracy. Iknow I wouldn’t. But . . .Q: But . . .AB: But though I don’t admire bin Laden or his methods, I respecthis seriousness. He and his men want to destroy the United States asmuch as we want to destroy them. They are risking their lives fortheir cause. They aren’t going away anytime soon. We’re foolingourselves if we pretend otherwise.So writing about this conflict is very different than writing aboutthe Cold War. In the Cold War, the two sides were recognizable toeach other. They played by the same rules: Don’t kill civilians, don’ttarget the other side’s agents. Don’t push too hard. Neither sidewanted a nuclear holocaust. The game was a chess match, complexand difficult but controlled. Of course no one did a better job capturingthat complexity than John le Carré.Now we’re confronting an enemy that doesn’t just want to winthe game. It wants to tear up the board. And thus it’s difficult tosympathize with the other side. But as a novelist you have to makeboth sides real to the reader. The bad guys can’t just be cardboardcutouts.Q: How did you reconcile that contradiction?AB: By portraying the terrorists as honestly as possible, as real people.They all have reasons that they’ve joined Qaeda; they aren’t idiotsor psychopaths.Q: You mentioned le Carré. Is he your model?AB: I admire le Carré’s skill as a writer, his ability to create charactersand build complex, real worlds. I’m not sure our politics are thesame. Anyway, it would be more than a little premature to makethat comparison. If I keep doing this—and I hope I do—maybe intwenty years.Q: Your book feels very real. Did you have help from the CIA orformer agents?AB: To be honest, no. I drew on three major sources of information.First, the time I spent in Iraq helped me understand the military,which plays a major part in the book. Second, I’ve done quite a bitof investigative reporting for the Times, so I’ve dealt with FBI andfederal prosecutors as they investigate criminal cases, and I appreciatethe government agency mindset.Prosecutors have incredible power: the power to search a suspect’shome, to make indictments and arrests. Yet they also haveenormous responsibility. If they make a mistake, they can destroythe life of an innocent person, or allow someone guilty to go free. Atthe CIA the stakes are even higher. Meanwhile, the people at thetop, who are political appointees, have their own agenda, which isbasically not to embarrass themselves or their administration. So thefolks on the front lines are under incredible pressure to balancethese competing demands. I think I do a good job portraying thatpressure.Finally, and this will come as no surprise, I found a tremendousamount of information from open sources: books and electronicdatabases and the Internet. It’s all there, from how the National SecurityAgency intercepts electronic communications—to how tobuild a truck bomb. Comforting, huh?Q: This is your second book. Was the first also a novel?AB: Actually, it was a short history of Wall Street called The Number—nonfiction, also published by Random House. It came out theweek we invaded Iraq, so not too many people have heard of it.Q: It doesn’t sound like it has much in common with The FaithfulSpy.AB: On the surface, it doesn’t. But in an odd way, The Number preparedme to write this book.Q: How so?AB: Fiction is hard. Much harder than nonfiction. Nonfiction, youlook around the world and you tell the story as best you can. Fiction—you have to look inside your head for the answer. If it’s notthere, you have nothing to write. Fiction is far more personal. It canbe terrifying. And I’d never written much fiction before, maybe acouple of short stories in college. If I hadn’t written The Number,I’m not sure I would have been able to finish The Faithful Spy. BecauseI had that experience, I knew that sometimes you have to pushon, that you can always fix your mistakes, but you trap yourself ifyou keep writing the same paragraph or page over and over.Q: So you’re Keanu Reeves’s biggest fan. Why?AB: Well, I was very fortunate to sell the movie rights to The FaithfulSpy well before it was published. It’s in development now at Regencyand Fox. I think the sale was due mainly to the fact that myagent shipped the manuscript to Keanu’s manager, and apparentlyKeanu is interested in playing John Wells. I always have to smilewhen I refer to him as Keanu, like I know him, which of course Idon’t. But I owe Keanu one for sure.Q: You’ve written two books and you work full-time for The NewYork Times. How old are you?AB: Thirty-three (January 6, 1973).Q: You don’t sleep much, do you?AB: No, I sleep. I write fast, not super-fast, but my writing is veryclean, which helps. I’m not married, and I don’t have kids. And Iknew what I wanted this novel to be. I knew it was something I hadto do.
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