36 Yalta Boulevard was the longest of the sequence to write. Bridge took a mere six months to pen and edit (a feat that still surprises me), and Confession took a little more than a year. Yalta took over a year and a half.
With each book, my aim is different, and with Yalta I wanted to show a sympathetic character (Brano Sev) who is, by most standards, a “bad guy”. He is a secret policeman whose job it is to safeguard an oppressive regime, who often imprisons, or perhaps kills, others who we (meaning Westerners) might call freedom fighters. It wasn’t an easy task, which was why the book took so long, with me making major edits up until the very last moment.
As a novelist, I’m unable to see any of my characters as “bad”. I work on the premise that while characters (and people in the real world) commit evil deeds, they always believe that what they’re doing serves some good—people seldom characterize themselves as evil. And Brano, from his first entry in Bridge, has always been an essentially virtuous man who, because he’s unable to communicate his reasons for his sometimes heinous acts, is understood by everyone around him to be “bad”. I always had a soft spot for him and his self-imposed alienation.
Brano is, as an Austrian agent tells him during an interrogation in Yalta, an idealist of the highest order. He believes in the promise of communism, while still being intelligent enough to see its faults. Under communism, there were precious few people like this. Most were communists of convenience, in order to get decent jobs and run in the right circles, or people who twisted the system to gain power over others. But Brano is part of the wartime generation that helped bring the Soviets into his country. Like the Russian revolutionaries of 1917, he remembers the euphoria of those first few months of possibility.
And so Brano works, in a world rife with corruption, toward a future communist utopia. And with the hindsight of history, I and the reader know that his work will all be in vain. Which, to me, makes his fight all the more poignant.