There’s a scene in the new novel “The Bucharest File” when a character acts in a way that signifies the writer knew how to administer a potentially toxic property.
Luckily for first author William Maz, his longtime former job was as an anesthesiologist – not that the operating room would ever have required this particular procedure. But that’s not the only time Maz has drawn on his own experiences to write a book he aptly calls a “Russian doll of a novel – a love story inside a love story. ‘spy inside a thriller’.
Set primarily in Romania on the eve of the bloody 1989 revolution against Ceausescu’s regime, the novel focuses on CIA analyst Bill Heflin, who returned to his native country at the insistence of his KGB agent. , Boris. Although raised in the United States and educated at Harvard, Heflin is also motivated in Bucharest to continue a long-term search for his childhood sweetheart Pusha, who over the years has acquired larger-than-life qualities. As the revolution escalates into savagery, Heflin is forced to abstain at every turn because the priorities and motives of his CIA superiors Boris and other unknown forces – even Pusha? – seem to be changing daily and with increasing desperation.
For a first published novel – even if it took a while to arrive in bookstores – “The Bucharest File” has achieved many successes. Lee Child, F. Paul Wilson, Jon Land and William Bernhardt are among the established authors who provided blurbs.
Maz appears virtually Tuesday in the latest in our “Read of The Day” author series in partnership with Bank Square Books.
The settings for “Dossier” are evocatively detailed, and there’s a wintery, brooding atmosphere that permeates the book in a captivating way. Part of the work’s realism is that, like Heflin, Maz was born in Bucharest to Greek parents and emigrated to America as a child. He also graduated from Harvard but, rather than join the CIA, Maz attended Mount Sinai School of Medicine, did his residency at Yale, and went into practice.
“The truth is that only a small part of the book is autobiographical,” Maz said, speaking softly and thoughtfully, over the phone last week. “Obviously having lived in Romania provided details, and I love the language and the people. I also witnessed a lot of the revolution before and after and I still have relatives there to who I could talk to.
“But I think the mistake a lot of authors make with the advice ‘write what you know’ is to replicate exactly what happened in their situation. I think you should use what you can from the past to meet the need for story structure. Every story has a point and a three-act narrative; real life just doesn’t happen that way. In fact, in (“Dossier”), I have took the plot one step out of the dimensions of reality as we know it and interspersed a bit of magical realism.”
Echoes of History
Maz acknowledges, however, that there are real similarities in his book to events currently unfolding in Ukraine.
“I see the parallels, they’re there,” Maz says. “There is the question of the American communist in quotes that has certain unrealistic ideals. I wanted to show what communism really looks like. It is strict totalitarianism. In Europe, from the distance of New York through Pennsylvania, there is has several countries that are all very careful about what’s going on because it’s scary.
“There is no equality in communism. There are very different classes; some drive in Mercedes and everyone waits in queues. And the spy novel is an effective way to talk problems like this and bring it home. In America “We also have that upper echelon, and the reality of anything that might impact the peasant. There is also the question of emigration. Should you leave your home for a better life? You lose a lot: customs, language, a natural sense of belonging. And then sometimes you don’t have either. I think all of these issues are at play in the book – but in a subtle way that underscores the action.
Maz says writing was a passion long before he studied medicine, and he describes a short story he wrote for a seventh-grade class about three little chicks in the refugee army barracks where he and his family lived in Greece before coming to America. It was deep winter; there was no heating and the chicks were freezing to death.
“The girls were real and I was heartbroken so I wrote the story and gave it back. My teacher loved it and made me read it in front of the class and they clapped.” He’s laughing. “I was addicted. But it took a long time – a very long time – to get better. I’m still trying to get better.”
Because her father, brothers, and several family friends were all doctors, Maz says, “Medicine was predestined, like an arranged marriage. And I liked that. But I’ve always had a passion for writing. do it ; the creative part is so amazing. I love the whole process and can be delighted with a phrase or a word.”
Moz completed a novel while in residency at Yale. He found an agent and, he says, “The book was almost sold to (the prestigious publishing house) Knopf. In the end, it was refused because it was too psychological. I was upset but at the same time, Knopf! I was even more hooked.”
Throughout the many years of her medical practice, Maz continued to write. He took creative writing courses at Harvard, the New School and the Writer’s Studio and studied fiction with Gordon Lish, the editor who worked with, among other literary stars, Barry Hannah, Amy Hemple, Raymond Carver and Richard Ford.
“It was pretty intense. I practiced medicine all day and wrote every night,” says Maz. “I have to say it had a big effect on my social life. But I was invested.”
No longer replaced by an agent, Maz concentrated on the manuscripts. He completed two more unpublished novels before “The Bucharest Dossier”, which he sold himself to the small but respected Oceanview Publishing.
“I almost came to the conclusion that I would never be published, but I wasn’t going to stop writing either,” Maz says. “Eventually, Oceanview made an offer. They said, ‘Are you sure you want us? We’re not a Big 5.’ Are you kidding? I was kissing the floor in gratitude!”