Alexander Rosenstein is an orthopedic surgeon and a university professor who lives in Charleston, West Virginia and in Hawaii. But as much as he loves the surgical theater, he also loves spy thrillers — he grew up loving Ian Fleming’s books about James Bond.
Now he’s telling his own spy thriller stories with his debut novel “Sword of the Kremlin.” It’s set during the Cold War, but with a twist: His main character is in the KGB.
Eric Douglas: You're a physician, you've obviously had a successful career both in academia and in medicine. Why write a novel? Where did that come from?
Rosenstein: It's interesting. Some people who want to be an actor they wait tables until they have their break. So, I love surgery. I love what I do. However, I always wanted to be a writer since I was a young teenager. I read a lot and really love this world of fantasy, even more. So when I decided I'm going to write something, I wanted it to be visual. So the way I write really is like watching a mini-series. I just watch mini-series in my mind and write them down.
Douglas: You mentioned that one of your role models was Ian Fleming. Was the James Bond series an inspiration?
Rosenstein: I liked 007 growing up, but my character is a bit different from James Bond, even though he possesses a lot of skills as James Bond would. He's doing it on a shoestring. He's doing it the Soviet way. He doesn't have Maseratis, he doesn't drink vodka martinis, he just drinks vodka. He does things that need to be done without fancy gadgets.
Douglas: It's interesting that you have a history of growing up in the Soviet Union. And your parents immigrated out because of the oppression of Russian Jews. I'm surprised there's no animosity. I'm surprised you think of it positively.
Rosenstein: I'm hoping that there's a little more understanding of our opponent, you know, the Soviet Union that morphed into Russia and Ukraine and other independent republics. It presents a challenge right now for the United States. And I think it's a mistake just to vilify it, instead of [try to] understand it. The only way you can effectively deal with your opponents or competitors, or whatever you call it — I don't want to call them enemies, I think they are our competitors — is by understanding them.
Douglas: What did you learn from the writing process? What surprised you?
Rosenstein: I've written several articles, and you have to be very factual and they have to be very cold and unemotional. What I love about fiction is a power — you have an ultimate power over your characters. And that's it — power comes with responsibility. So I like that sort of situation where I can actually mold their lives and write a story and hopefully keep the reader interested.
Douglas: I saw the note that you planned on making this a series. You plan to continue with Oleg through his career. Where does it go next?
Rosenstein: This first book takes place, mostly in Moscow, but some of it takes place in western Ukraine. The next book involves conflict between Russia and Ukraine. And I think it's a very interesting subject historically. It's based on some historical events and my explanation of unexplained events that happened.
I was also going to mention that I think being in West Virginia — and right where I was, so we bought this beautiful place in South Hills, which had a running stream and surrounded by woods — I think, to me, that was extremely helpful. I think it's very inspiring. Someday this house will become a national treasure.
Douglas: I've always seen a lot of parallels between the people of Russia and the people of West Virginia.
Rosenstein: As the story progresses, I hope to have a several novels with the same main character. I would like to bring him to West Virginia eventually.
I think there is something to be learned from this book. I hope that people like it and enjoy it. I think it's an escape and I want them to subtly learn things without straining themselves.