ALAMEDA -- For William Weinreb's first novel, the Alameda author chose to relate the experiences of World War II in a fictional Eastern European country and through the eyes of two young, love-struck protagonists immersed in the rising tide of war.
"The Gift of Sleep" offers readers history, intrigue, espionage and romance, all the hallmarks of a good read.
Weinreb wove his story around his familiarity with the area, a time period he felt drawn to and the dark works of two writers he respected, Jerzy Kosinski and Alan Furst. Travels around Eastern Europe as a young man reminded him of stories he'd heard of from his grandfather who had come from Belarus. Weinreb was impressed by the variety of cultures and how they seemed to remain 30 years behind the times.
With the setting in place, the time period of World War II followed.
Not wanting to be completely bound by historical literacy, Weinreb created a country he called Dacia, a semi-feudal, messed up little kingdom with tribal wars going on and tribal leaders manipulating against one another. His story begins in 1932 and covers the period through 1946.
As the narrative moves between Dacia and New York, Weinreb uses his two young protagonists to illustrate two of his themes. First is the immigrant experience of first-generation young people growing up in a brutal time and the choices they faced. That leads to his second theme, which is that no matter what they wanted to do, the war subsumed their activities and there were consequences for what they did. Choosing to make Dacia a small nation helped illustrate his third theme, which was that everything that happened, even in very small nations, was still critical to the outcome within the global conflict.
"In World War II, the whole future of the world was at stake. In this story, choices are forced on these characters that ultimately make a difference," Weinreb said. "My feeling is that everybody in that war made a difference."
The author has lived in Alameda for 33 years with his wife and two daughters and was a teacher at Haight Elementary School for 26 years before he retired. It was toward the end of his teaching career that he found the time and discipline to follow his dream of becoming a writer and "telling his story."
As with most writers, certain challenges had to be met, one being how to make events taking place in an imagined country have consequences in the real world. A second was that the characters he created became real and required real back stories, making the author try to see things and make decisions from their perspectives.
Another concern was veracity of scene, tone and language.
"I was trying to capture the texture and flavor of a period that took place 70 years ago when language and values were so very different that our own," Weinreb said. "So I tried to make everyone as plausible to the time as possible."
The result was three versions and six years of work to complete "The Gift of Sleep," a book that the author hopes will gain readers a better appreciation of the time and the choices that people, especially young people, were faced with at that very stark time.
"I'd just like readers to enjoy the story and try to imagine what it would have been like to live back then," he said. "I want to share this book with readers; that's important to me."
"The Gift of Sleep" by William Weinreb is priced at $22 and is available at Amazon, Kindle and CreateSpace at https://www.createspace.com/4240061.