Todays interview is with William Maz, whose recent book “The Bucharest Dossier” was released in March of 2022. William was born in Romania, has many contacts there and was able to fashion a very enjoyable, realistic and fast paced novel about the Romanian Revolution of 1989. This is a topic that has rarely been seen in American Bookstores and I was excited to be able to discuss the book and Romania with William. I think you will enjoy his insights, as we bring you another in depth interview here on ViewsonBooks.
Let me begin by thanking you for taking time out of your schedule to answer these written questions that will appear in interview form at my website: www.viewsonbooks.com
My wife was born in Romania in 1961 and lived there until her escape in 1984, so we are very happy to have your book on the Romanian Revolution in 1989.
It’s my understanding that you were born in Bucharest, were you born prior to the revolution of 1989? If so was your family able to escape from the country or did you come to the United States after the revolution?
I was born prior to the revolution and came to the U.S. as a young boy. I have since returned to Bucharest many times to visit relatives, including both during the Ceausescu years and after the revolution.
You have always been interested in writing, you even wrote a novel in high school which mirrors your lead character in The Bucharest Dossier, but what made you decide to become a full time writer after what appears to have been a highly successful medical career?
Writing fiction has always been a passion for me. Medicine today is not as it was during the days of Arthur Conan Doyle or Somerset Maugham. It requires most of your time. Although I wrote in the evenings while practicing medicine, I realized that in order to do it justice I had to follow my passion and become a full-time writer. It is the best decision I made.
Even though your book is a novel, it is based on very specific and detailed historical events, what research did you do and where were you able to find so much information about the Romanian Revolution of 1989?
My research included first-hand experiences by my relatives and friends who lived during that period in Bucharest, as well as from extensive reading of books, articles in both the English and Romanian media, and published research papers by academicians and government agencies. All my research comes from publicly available sources. I tried to be as accurate as I could describing some of the events during the revolution. However, there are parts of the story that history has not yet been able to determine in which I give myself “poetic license” to come up with my own fictional theories.
Throughout the book you intimate that there was a spy versus spy situation going on in Romania in 1989 and that possibly more than one countries espionage efforts were responsible for the revolution. Is this the standard view of the situation as it existed in Romania, and if not where did you come up with the idea of multiple spy and espionage agencies being jointly and yet severably responsible for the overthrow?
Even thirty after the revolution, the question still asked by many Romanians is, “Was it a popular revolution or a coup d’état?” History has not yet answered that question, so there is no standard view. It is known that Ceausescu feared a coup by the Russians. Gorbachev despised Ceausescu and the feeling was mutual. While Gorbachev was trying to install glasnost and perestroika, Ceausescu was continuing with strict Stalinism. General Militaru, a known KGB asset, who later became the first minister of defense under Iliescu (who took over after the revolution), publicly admitted that a coup had been planned for many years but was never set in motion. And Iliescu, a good friend of Gorbachev since their university days in Moscow, was Gorbachev’s choice in leading the government after Ceausescu’s fall. For these and many other reasons, most Romanians believe that the Russians were involved in the revolution. I have my own theory which, though fiction, is described in the book.
Your family is Romanian and I was wondering if any of them suffered through the hardships and deprivations of the Nikolai Ceausescu regime?
I and my immediate family left Romania before 1965 when Ceausescu took over, but the previous regime under Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was also a harsh Stalinist regime with many of the same economic problems and horrific secret police. Many of my relatives stayed behind in Bucharest, however, and they experienced the Ceausescu regime first hand.
Why do you think more books and novels have not been written about the 1989 Revolution? I ask this because most people don’t know much about Romania and the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime.
Most of the West is not familiar with Eastern Europe, at least not until the present Ukraine war. And it must be remembered that all the former Soviet satellite countries turned away from communism through a relatively peaceful transition during the same year, so Romania was just one of them, despite the fact that it had the only violent revolution. Do not forget, however, that Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2009 writing about the Ceausescu years.
The book appears to be both a story of the revolution as well as a love story, is there anything autobiographical in that?
Most writing teachers tell you to “write what you know.” What they don’t tell you, at least at first, is how to use your personal experiences without being a slave to them. When a beginning writer presents a story to the class and is criticized, he or she inevitably responds with, “But it’s true. That’s exactly how it happened.” What they fail to understand is that life doesn’t present well-crafted stories on a silver platter. Life is often a rush of seemingly unrelated events and relationships whose meaning you often don’t understand until much later, sometimes years later. A writer must use only kernels of those “true” events in order to create the higher truth of the story he is writing. The loyalty is to the story, not to the events in his life.
So, yes, there was a little girl in Bucharest, but the rest is fiction. Many locales in the book come from my own experiences, but the characters and events are fiction.
What current projects are you working on? And will you be returning to Romania as a site for future books?
I am presently working on a sequel to The Bucharest Dossier, which also partly takes place in Bucharest.
Lastly, do you think the revolution has created a better society in Romania? I asked this because there are a few instances in this book where you state that it’s going to take a few generations to become integrated, and do you see that integration having happened as of now?
Today Bucharest is a thriving, modern city, with malls and cell phones and a higher standard of living. Romania has made great progress economically, it is part of NATO and the European Union, and has had democratically elected governments. However, what has remained as part of its psyche, which is the case in many of the former communist countries, including Russia, is the corruption that formed the basis of the communist regime. For many years after the revolution, Romania was near the bottom of the most corrupt countries in the EU. Every year or two you hear of some politician or other being indicted for stealing government funds, or money laundering, or taking bribes. This mindset has a long history in Romania, not only from the communists but from the Ottoman Empire. This is what I was referring to when I said it would take a generation or two to change.
On behalf of many of us who have read this book and have a growing interest in Romania, I thank you for writing this novel and shining a light on the situation that existed back in 1989.