A Conversation with Juan Gómez-Jurado, Author of The Moses Expedition
Q. Where did you encounter Sam Keen’s poem “How to Create an Enemy”? How did this poem serve as a point of inspiration for The Moses Expedition?
A. When I was doing my research for The Moses Expedition, I was very interested in finding out how certain groups criminalized others to obtain political or economic profit. There have been hundreds of examples of this throughout history. For example, the Holocaust. Faces of the Enemy, the amazing essay written by Sam Keen, greatly influenced my writing, and I wanted to honor that by opening my book with his poem.
Q. The Moses Expedition addresses many religious groups; did you have a specific audience in mind when writing this novel?
A. Sensitive human beings are my audience. As you may notice, there is no Manichaeism in The Moses Expedition, just people fighting for their perception of good. Andrea Otero, Raymond Kayn, Huqan, Nazim . . . all of them view themselves as heroes. Maybe the message of this novel is that truth lies within the ability to understand every perspective, something that Western societies—especially the United States—never do.
Q. How did you first decide on the Ark of the Covenant as the central focus for this novel?
A. That question is a natural follow-up to your previous one. There is only one character in The Moses Expedition who doesn’t think of himself as a hero or who acts for his own profit. That is Father Fowler, and obviously he is the hero of this story. His final decision, what he does in the last pages of the novel, is not an easy one.
That said, in an action and mystery thriller like this one, you can usually assume that obtaining a physical object is the goal of the adventure, but not in this case. There are intentionally only glimpses of the Ark in the last pages, and those glimpses come from the light of gunfire. I couldn’t have portrayed a more powerful symbol. Human beings often act stupidly, but there is no action more silly and senseless than killing for your own God.
That’s why the Ark is destroyed at the end, and only one line from the tablet survives: “Thou shall not kill.” That’s what God whispers in our hearts from every corner of Creation, but we are deaf to that.
Q. Could you describe the research process behind this novel?
A. Thousand of miles through the desert, hundreds of books, fifteen days living in Jordan with Bedouin tribes, and a supportive family!
Q. Your description of the plight of the Jewish people during World War II is arresting. What about this period particularly intrigued you?
A. The immense amount of suffering that the Jewish people endured under Nazism is so overwhelming that it can be hard to comprehend. Even a masterpiece as astounding as Schindler’s List can leave you feeling numb, simply because everything is so big. That’s why I decided to personalize this experience with Yudel and his family. His personal hell, reclusion, escape, and rebirth are symbolic and engrossing.
Q. How did you incorporate your own journalism experience with that of Andrea Otero?
A. Do you remember in the beginning of the novel, when Andrea is fired? I’ve been fired a lot for telling the truth. I left these jobs feeling lost, skeptical, and cynical. This is very common in journalism nowadays.
Q. The reclusive billionaire, the outspoken lesbian journalist—these personalities seem familiar in today’s media. Did you have any real-life inspiration behind the characters of Raymond Kayn and Andrea Otero?
A. I’m a lot like Andrea, that’s for sure. As for Raymond Kayn, I think that he is a mix of several real-life characters. My lawyer is telling me to stop writing.
Q. Do you have a favorite character in The Moses Expedition?
A. All of them are my children, but Orville and Andrea are really lovable. He is braver and mightier than he seems, and she, under that clumsy and cynical façade, is a tender and vulnerable young lady.
Q. Your novel God’s Spy sparked many controversial issues in Spain. Did you intend for The Moses Expedition to be a springboard for conversation about moral and ethical issues as well?
A. God’s Spy sparked controversy in Spain because there are a lot of problems with sexual abuse there. But my only intention is for my novels to entertain people. If I wanted to denounce things, I would become an essayist. I write thrillers with explosions and killings and a lot of fun in them. but—and this is a big one—I believe my readers are clever, so I include a lot of food for thought in my stories.
Q. Can you describe some of the difficulties of writing a follow-up to an internationally bestselling novel? Did you learn anything from your previous experience that made writing The Moses Expedition easier?
A. Actually, it was very difficult. I was nervous and scared to the bone. As a result, I tried harder, though, and that is why this is a much better novel. I think that all I learned from the first book was very helpful, but I didn’t realize it then because I was too worried about living up to expectations. Characterization, documentation, plotting, and setting were three times more difficult in The Moses Expedition. But I’m very proud of this book. In fact, the same minute I typed the last line of the novel, “And he was forgiven,” my cell phone rang. It was my wife telling me that she was on her way to the hospital to give birth to our second child! So for us, it was a double blessing and a sign that this book was going to be greater than my first.
Q. Who are some of the thriller writers who inspire you?
A. Almost every one of them is American: Steve Berry, Brad Thor, Douglas Preston, Javier Sierra, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Stephen King.
Q. Could you give us a glimpse into your next project?
A. If you enjoyed The Moses Expedition you’ll love my next novel (to be published by Atria Books in 2011). It is a stand-alone book about a young boy in Germany who wants to find out who killed his father. Although on the surface this novel is a thriller filled with Masonry, Nazis, and suspense, there is more to it. This book also shares a love story between a young German boy and a young Jewish American woman, a revenge that spans nineteen years, and a timely tale about the search for identity. All of this is set against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism, from 1919 to 1938.
This novel is based on a true story that occurred in 1941: A Spanish captain rescued four mysterious survivors from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean. They asked to be taken to Portugal, but before parting ways, one of them gave the captain a gold emblem that was recently discovered to be worth one million dollars.