The Bucharest Dossier by William Maz is a spy story, although not in the classic style, as it takes place in a new era after the dissolution of the USSR and the key character is not exactly operating as a spy, but rather as a cultural attaché. Expert advice tells writers to “write about what you know.” William Maz, the author, was born in Bucharest, Romania and this is his debut novel, so he kept the conventional wisdom in mind.
Bill Hefflin, Harvard student, is a child of Greek parents, now American citizens, who were once residents of Bucharest. Hefflin is selected by Professor Pincus to join the Fly Club, an exclusive club at Harvard. Through the Fly Club he meets the mysterious, sophisticated, and lovely Catherine. Bill, who doesn’t realize that the Fly Club is a testing ground for future government operatives, is soon involved in the spy games the club specializes in. When Professor Pincus is killed the games turn real.
The CIA recruits and trains Bill and he is sent to Romania in the reign of the cruel authoritarian leader of Romania, who keeps himself wealthy and his people, who live in fear, poor. From his training in America Bill has a connection to a KGB asset he calls Boris. Boris also wants Hefflin in Romania.
Bill has been haunted by memories of his childhood in Bucharest. His father was a medical doctor. Next door to his family was a warm and loving neighbor whom he called Tanti Bobi, and his best friend, a little girl everyone called Pusha. Pusha and Fili (the young Bill) fell in love under an enormous apple tree until his parents left Romania and eventually ended up in the US,
Bill has official duties which are so nebulous as to be questioned by nearly everyone in and outside of the American Embassy in Bucharest. The reign of Ceausescu is ending right before Bill’s eyes, but certain anomalies lead him to suspect that people close to him might be involved in a regime change scheme.
A good, if unusual spy story, but the sex scenes seemed awkward and not at all erotic, nor even the desperate coupling of war-torn lovers snatched from the jaws of death. These scenes did not work for me. So, I’m a bit mixed on this one, but it does give some insight into the struggles of Romania and the reasons why Ceausescu was a target of a push to show how democracy was better than communism. Of course, as with any capitalist nation, America had dreams of development and dollar signs in its eyes. The foreign involvement in the overthrow of Ceausescu is the kind of move that led to the cynicism of many younger Americans in the current age who question America’s supposed altruism. There is an actual dossier, and it is worthwhile waiting to learn the contents.