Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Birth of World of Mirrors


World of Mirrors is set on the Baltic island of Ruegen in what was then East Germany. It’s June, 1990. The Berlin Wall is down, the 40-year reign of the Communist government is over, and the country has voted to re-unite with West Germany.  This period is called “the year of miracles,” or “the time of the turn.”  

There are no new rules to replace the old rules.  The citizenry is confused.  What will happen to jobs?  To pensions?  To children’s education.  The Stasi, the secret police who spied on everyone in a country where one out of every 30 people was an informer, have tried to melt back into the population.  But have they?  The Soviet navy still sits in the Baltic port of Sassnitz, ready to return home to an uncertain future, maybe even not enough food.  North Vietnamese “guest workers” who were brought to East Germany as little more than indentured servants are clamoring to stay in the West.  Even the dogs that patrolled the wall and the “death strips” no long have a purpose in life and are being adopted by civilians.  Who can you trust?  What can you believe? 

The island, at the end of the road seems like a land that time forgot, unspoiled because the East Germans had little money except for the spies and the military.  Ruegen has hidden harbors, beautiful chalk cliffs, meadows, thatched roof cottages, and “Allee Strasse” where trees arch over the country roads. Many of the beaches are FKK, Frei Korper Kulture, or nude.  There are beautiful but shabby hotels and casinos.  Seamen’s bars where various nationalities congregate.  Is this a great setting for a book or what?

The main character is Zara Gray, a newly-divorced mother who wants to quite her high tech job and find something in hometown Chicago that doesn’t require constant travel.  Her greedy employers insist she take one last assignment, to validate some stolen software in East Germany.  The software is a sophisticated data mining system that is ahead of the curve, even in the West, developed by a New England company and stolen by the marketing manager.  He has hightailed to East Germany where he thought he would be safe, and he was... until the Wall came down.  Zara’s sidekick is T.K. Drummond, a man who she had a short relationship with the previous summer and who has no reason to like her. I’ve assembled an international cast of miscreants who want to seize opportunities as well as the software.

Wait a minute!  Harbors!  Seashore! Islands?  Where are the sailboats?  There is one, a beauty, the Zeesboot, a former working boat used for eeling in shallow waters.  These gaff-rigged schooners are being converted to pleasure boats, and Chuck, the larcenous marketing manager has just had a Zeesboot, The Painted Cow, refurbished.  Much of the action takes place on the boat, in good winds, becalmed seas and fog.

I came to write this book having spent a quick vacation weekend on Ruegen.  When I got home, the island came with me, until I figured out, “there must be a book here.”   I did a lot of reading and we returned for a week the following summer for research and reconnaissance.  There was indeed a book, World of Mirrors. 

The title comes from Marcus Wolf, the former East German spymaster, a paranoid man who didn't trust computers. 

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