We are absolutely overwhelmed to be interviewing espionage thriller author, Howard Kaplan, for a second time with regard to his second book of The Jerusalem Spy series, Bullets of Palestine. You may remember we interviewed the best selling author last October when his first book of the series, The Damascus Cover, was about to be filmed as a movie.
With the author’s personal experiences that inspired The Damascus Cover, and with stars such as Jonathan Reis Meyers (Match Point, The Tudors), Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot, The Da Vinci Code), Navid Negahban (Homeland, character Abu Nazir), Igal Naor (The Honourable Woman), and Sir John Hurt, we are very excited about it’s forthcoming release! For more on the film visit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3457508/ With the movie now in post-production and many people awaiting it’s release, now is a great time to check out both books!
Bullets of Palestine (The Jerusalem Spy series, Book 2)
Two agents. Two opposing sides.
Israeli Agent Shai is dispatched to eliminate a terrorist threat. To succeed in his mission Shai must win the trust of Palestinian Agent Ramzy who will help him gain access to the infamous and dangerous Abu Nidal.
Shai is under orders to kill Ramzy when the mission ends. Instead, they forge a friendship that transcends the hatreds of their heritage. Loyalties are tested. Will they capture Abu Nidal or betray each other? In a conflict where both sides dehumanize each other, two extremely human men, are caught in the cross-hairs of the larger war.
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Hello Howard, Welcome back to A Reader’s Review Blog. The last time we interviewed you for The Damascus Cover you certainly opened our eyes with your fantastic travel and life experiences. Thank you so much for your time and speaking with us again.
1. The last time we ‘spoke’ you were about to visit Casablanca on the film set of The Damascus Cover. How was your experience?
I spent a fabulous week in Casablanca and went out every day on the ten hour shoot. I’m beyond fortunate at the caliber of the cast. John Hurt was not there while I was, but I saw a lot of the romantic scenes shot with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Olivia Thirlby. Jonny, as JRM likes to be called, is intense, passionate and a perfectionist. His cover is Hans Hoffman, and he does the entire film with a remarkable German accent, his hair dyed blonde. A language coach from Berlin was on the set full time and listened to every take. Both of them were zealous that none of his Irish brogue slip into the German accented English. At breakfast in the hotel, I asked the German actor, Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, DaVinci Code) who plays a former Nazi in Damascus how it sounded. With a smile, he said, “Familiar.” Thirlby, best known as the sister in Juno, was particularly interesting. Unlike Jonny who hit the same delivery on take after take, Olivia roamed and tried each one a little differently until she and the director found a remarkable spot in both dialog and facial expressions. The producer told me I’d be bored and want to head off to the more exotic Marrakesh or Fez, but I stayed on set the entire week I was there.
2. Shortly after your visit to Casablanca the 2nd edition of Bullets of Palestine (The Jerusalem Spy series #2) was released. Could you tell us when the first edition was published, and if it brought back some memories for you from that time?
Bullets of Palestine, first published in 1987, is set 10 years after Damascus. What I was most reminded of in rereading it was all the locales I visited throughout the Middle East and Europe, such as Albufeira on the Portuguese coast to research events that actually happened there, in this case, the shooting at the Socialist International there. This was during Israel’s War with Lebanon and the army took me into Lebanon for a day, as part of a foreign press junket. I did not make it as far as Beirut then, though I had been in Beirut years earlier, but we reached Sidon on the coast and then on the way back to Israel I was able to visit the outdoor Ansar Prison Camp which the Israelis had set up just inside Lebanon. In truth reading it and reliving all this was more fun than I expected, as like many writers I’m among my harshest critics.
3. The bigger picture of Bullets of Palestine is the character, (Israeli) Agent Shai trying to eliminate a terrorist threat, however it is also a story of a growing friendship, between Shai and (Palestinian) Agent Ramzy, and how that friendship is tested to it’s limits. Albeit, not on the same scale of things, being a man of extensive travel, have you experienced a testing/trying relationship due to cultural or religious differences?
I traveled freely to Arab villages in the West Bank and a number of those scenes and meals have made it into Bullets. I’ve spent a lot of time with Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem. Recently a Palestinian merchant I’ve bought silk carpets from over the years took me on a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the back alleys of the Arab Quarter. This spring, after the shoot in Casablanca, I went to Jerusalem. Unlike the characters in my novel I have not had a battle with trust with people from a different culture. I find if you approach people with interest in their world, they’re generally eager to share it with you.
4. Are there completely new characters in Bullets of Palestine, making it a stand alone read, or is there a cross reference with the characters or story with The Damascus Cover?
The common thread between the two books is the Colonel, the head of the Israeli secret service, who is the puppet master in both novels and is played in the film by John Hurt. I created new protagonists for Bullets, because while Damascus dealt with the conflict between Israel and its nation state neighbors, I wanted now to turn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the great challenge for both societies. So I created a Palestinian terrorist-novelist, based on a real person, Ghassan Kanafani, who is well known in the Arab world though not in the West. He was so dangerous as a writer that the Israelis blew him up in a car bomb in Beirut. For his Israeli counterpart, I used a very old friend of mine from Jerusalem, Avraham Infeld, as the template. He’s President Emeritus of Hillel worldwide on college campuses, and a larger than life exuberant guy. I wanted characters who were the salt of the earth, deeply ingrained in their own cultures and at the same time thoughtful contemplative men. So I drew on real such people.
5. Are you aware of any plans for Bullets of Palestine to be filmed? Do you think the success of The Damascus Cover will have any bearing on this?
Both the producer and director of the film have asked and have copies of Bullets now, but they’re focused on finishing this film which is in post production. I expect it to hit theaters early in 2016. Sure success matters a lot, it causes people to knock on your door, or the lack of it, to not open theirs.
6. You have some photographs on your Facebook page of meeting the cast and crew? Were there any highlights that you’d like to share?
Navid Negahban who played Abu Wazir in Homeland plays General Sarraj, the head of the Syrian Secret Service, in my film. He arrived in Casablanca a couple of days after I did and they fitted him with a black wig. Since I’m bald I asked if I could have it after the shoot. We had a lot of fun joking about it and someone online photoshopped a picture of me with it on. Jonny is more private, for example ate breakfast in his hotel room rather than the dining room, but I got to spend some time with him between takes. He’s remarkable, left school I think at something like 7th grade but is an autodidact. He can converse easily on a vast range of subjects and in several languages. It was interesting too to watch him with all the people who approached him, many young Moroccan women who wanted a photo with him. He obliged them all. He was particularly charming with children, and you’ll see a photo on my Facebook author page where he’s with the daughter of the owner of the carpet factory where we shot that day. The little girl was nervous and he charmed her into letting me take the photo for her father.
7. Although a story of defence, friendship and loyalties, are there any moments of love/romance in Bullets of Palestine, as you had in The Damascus Cover?
The love stories in Bullets are very different than the one in Damascus. In Damascus, Ari is recently separated from his wife and begins a new torrid romance with someone he’s not sure he can trust. The Palestinian character, Ramzy, in Bullets is in a wonderful marriage but struggling with the difficulties of being gone so much, always in danger, and trying to maintain a home life. The Israeli, Shai, lost his wife in a car accident, has begun a new relationship at home with a younger woman who works in administration inside the Service. It is new love, but there too, like his Palestinian counterpart, they are separated more than together and feel the strain.
8. Are there any moments in Bullets of Palestine that you have based loosely on your own life experiences?
Bullets is not at all based on my life, though it is vastly based on real life events. The Palestinian and Israeli are edged into working together to capture Abu Nidal, who was in fact, the most dangerous terrorist of the 1980s, and a real person. The novel opens with the assassination of the Israeli Ambassador to Great Britain, Shlomo Argov, which is an historical event. Abu Nidal wanted to goad Israeli Prime Minister, Arik Sharon, into invading Lebanon to crush the PLO, who Bu Nidal viewed as too moderate. He succeeded. I land my Palestinian character, Ramzy, in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps when the Israelis surrounded the camps lit the night sky for the Christian Phalange fighters so they could eliminate the PLO fighters hiding in the refugee camps. This too is an historical event. The fighters had already fled and Ramzy witnesses the massacre of old men, women and children by the Lebanese Christians as the Israelis paved the way unaware the fighters were gone. It tests Ramzy to remain working with the Israelis. Then too, unbeknownst to Ramzy, his budding Israeli friend has been ordered to kill him once Abu Nidal is dead.
9. Despite not reading too much fiction yet on the threat of terrorism, I am an avid fan of the tv series Homeland and 24. Do you tend to watch movies/tv programmes in this genre? If so, which ones are your favourite?
I love great suspense films and TV. Emphasis on “great.” Homeland is great, one of the best things of the genre ever done. I watched the Maggie Gyllenthall miniseries The Honourable Woman. She’s marvelous. Igal Naor who played Shlomo in that show is also in my film as a Syrian General and the nemesis of Navid Negahban. But the miniseries was full of cliff hangers and turns meant to be exciting but ultimately were impossible to both follow and believe, as were all the complications. Gary Oldman did an honourable turn as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy but it is such a magnificent and dense book that that too was very hard to follow. The earlier 7- part British mini-series with Alec Guinness of the same LeCarre novel is a wonder to behold. The miniseries Dig set in Jerusalem was a mess and unwatchable. Again, some writers and directors think that throwing nonsense cliffhangers at the end of episode creates suspense but ultimately it creates annoyance. Great characters are crucial,which is why too that Homeland is so wonderful and successful.
10. Your work on both books has been extremely successful despite the subject of terrorism being a sensitive one. Have you had any negative reactions to your work?
Bullets has a 4.8 Customer Rating on Amazon out of 5 with only one negative review. Though written in 1987, it seems to have found its time in the current environment. It is greatly realized, or should be, that reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians is the only future for Israel and Palestinians. The book has been widely lauded in both the Arab and Israeli press as well as in mainstream newspapers. However, I expected blowback from those who see Palestinians as “the other”, and who believe might, which is a requirement for deterrence, alone is sufficient. So far it hasn’t come. Maybe those people too, deep down, known a deal needs to be done.
11. After the success of both The Damascus Cover and Bullets of Palestine, have you any plans to release another novel in the Jerusalem Spy series?
I’m working now on a new book that has not been published before called To Destroy Jerusalem. It will deal with the nuclear issue and have the same two protagonists as Bullets. The Colonel will be there though he’s a bit potty now, long in retirement, and rather than pulling the strings, is the moral center Shai, where he goes when trouble or in doubt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It has been an absolute pleasure.
About the Author:
Howard Kaplan, a native of Los Angeles, has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. At the age of 21, he had his own spy experience while attending school in Jerusalem, when he was sent on two missions into the Soviet Union to smuggle out a dissident’s manuscript on microfilm. His first trip was a success. On his second trip, however, he was arrested in Khartiv and interrogated for two days in the Ukraine and two days in Moscow, before being released. He holds a BA in Middle East History from UC Berkeley, an MA in the Philosophy of Education from UCLA, and is the author of four novels. Follow him on Twitter at @kaplanhow.