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Javier Sierra reveals the enigmas of ancient civilizations

Author of The Secret Supper talks about details of his novel.

En español | AARP Segunda Juventud Associate Editor Carlos J. Queirós interviewed Javier Sierra in November 2005 about the upcoming North American release of his latest book, The Secret Supper (La cena secreta).

Q: Javier, how would you describe La cena secreta to those who are not familiar with your work?

A: I would describe it as a kind of atlas or guide to learn a new language. It’s not only a novel, but a tool that teaches the reader how to interpret works of art from the past. In fact, I think if La cena secreta has any virtues, it’s the virtue of giving us back the capacity to read art — a capacity we lost with the discovery of printing and with the literacy of our culture and civilization. In the 15th century, not everyone could read. Very few had access to books. Therefore, the formula they used in the past to convey information was through works of art; almost everyone could read art then, something that doesn’t happen now.

Q: Our audience is bilingual Hispanics who are 50 and older. Have you noticed a difference in how various generations respond to your book?

Well, there are different approaches to the book, depending on the reader’s age. I think that every good book has different levels of reading. To young people, it’s a thriller, a book of action, of intrigue, of mysteries. It’s kind of like a giant puzzle that they assemble piece by piece. And middle-aged people have discovered that the book tries to bring them closer to a significant aspect of religion. Deep inside, all the characters in La cena secreta fight to find their faith, their real faith. And I think it’s very important for people of a certain age, or any age, to find their real faith.

Q: And do you have an ideal reader?

I think that the ideal reader of my books is the reader who feels curiosity and hasn’t lost the capacity to be surprised. It’s a reader who, even though he’s an adult, retains a child’s spirit; he keeps the capacity to be amazed by the things he doesn’t know. He’s capable of opening his eyes very wide to understand more than what he’s been taught. That is my ideal reader: the curious reader.

Q: Which authors have in some way influenced your work?

I feel I owe a big debt of gratitude to authors like Umberto Eco, the Italian writer and semiologist. He’s a very intelligent person who in his novels introduces many cultural references and mysteries, but they’re facts. They’re facts, real things. And his books have enabled millions of people in the world to get closer to fragments of classical culture that otherwise would have remained inaccessible to a mass audience. I also admire the great creators of thrillers, of intrigue, of fiction. From Ken Follett with his work in Pillars of the Earth to other contemporary masters like Dan Brown. I discovered Dan Brown when I was about to finish writing La cena secreta.

Q: Have you met Dan Brown?

Yes, our meeting coincided with the final moments of my work on La cena secreta. And it was very curious, because I thought that The Da Vinci Code was going to be in competition with La cena secreta, but it wasn’t like that because they’re completely different. The Da Vinci Code is a contemporary thriller where Leonardo is a mere historical reference. La cena secreta is a thriller based in the 15th century when Leonardo is still alive. And I think that marks a very distinct difference between the books, even though both are action books. They’re what English speakers call page-turners.

Q: Your book has been published in more than 30 countries. Have you read your book in another language?

Yes, I speak Italian and I read that translation. The truth is that it is a very satisfactory translation because, in some way, Italian was the real native language of the book. I mean, the book takes place in Italy; [I believe] the characters had to inevitably speak Italian, their original language. From Leonardo to the monks of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie to the inquisitors, everyone in my novel originally had to speak Italian. I was very curious about that translation, and enjoyed it very much. I’ve also read, and almost studied, the English translation of the book. The Secret Supper was translated by Alberto Manguel, who is a distinct writer and intellectual. I had to collaborate with him in many instances to clarify certain aspects, to settle some of the details of the translation, and I’m very satisfied with the English translation of La cena secreta.

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