After completing his medical residency and liver disease fellowship, Dr. Malnak practiced as a board certified internist. He served as Chief of Internal Medicine at the US Army Hospital, Fort Sill, OK., and was medical director of several organizations. Dr. Malnak was also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Stritch School of Medicine of Loyola University.
Dr. Malnak’s father emigrated to the US from Lithuania when he was sixteen, leaving behind a large family. They were all subsequently sent to a Nazi death camp during World War II and were exterminated. As a result of that tragic familial history, Dr. Malnak developed a keen interest in the Holocaust and has read widely on the subject. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Florida with their whippet, Paige, and parakeet, Kiwi. Hitler’s Silver Box is his first novel.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Hitler’s Silver Box. What was your inspiration for it?
A: After retiring as an internist, I took a fiction writing class taught by a well known writer. Perhaps because my father’s entire Lithuanian family had been murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, I wrote a short story about a young silversmith captured during the Second World War and forced to make a silver box for Hitler’s birthday. The teacher suggested I expand the story into a novel.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: Bruce Starkman is a young chief emergency room resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital where he’s totally devoted to his profession. He’s tall and athletic and has a casual love interest. When his uncle, a Holocaust survivor, dies under mysterious circumstances, he’s forced to risk everything to keep himself and others alive and to protect the world against a Nazi resurgence. Much of Bruce’s ER experience is based on my experience working in an ER and being a medical director of a large ER.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: I didn’t exactly outline the book, but I kept detailed notes on the characters as well as a list of chapters and planned carefully scenes for each chapter. Then each morning I’d write furiously pushing my censor aside until I finished a scene. When I next wrote, I’d carefully edit the last scene before beginning the next one. Just couldn’t wait until the book was finished. Too compulsive, I guess. Unfortunately, I suffer from a number of serious illnesses and because of various operations and complications, had to put the book aside for long periods. Thus, the novel required some nine years to complete.
Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?
A: I always look for conflicts to keep the major characters off balance. I also try to put the reader into the story, so she or he will hear the rustling sounds and smell the noxious odors or the sweet perfume.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: This seldom happens to me, but since like Bruce, I also suffer from claustrophobia, the section where Bruce was stuck in a dark tunnel was difficult to write. I literally pushed myself through it and didn’t even proofread the part for almost a week.
Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: I’m a morning person. Up early. Set the coffee up the night before. Get in an hour or two before breakfast. Since I’m retired, don’t have much to interfere with my writing. My wife is very cooperative. When the door to the computer room is closed, I’m literally left alone with my writing.
Q: How do you define success?
A: Success is holding the finished, printed copy of a book in my hand. Of course, positive reviews and being asked to autograph copies make it even better.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: Never let them discourage you. Find a time and place to write, whatever that takes and write, write, write. Please yourself. Join writing groups to get support that you can’t get at home.
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: Pretty much so. It’s like an itch that you must scratch. Cliche or not, it does become an obsession.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: All the stress and aggravation is worth it in the end. Also, follow this advice: write, rewrite, get it right!
My review of Hitler’s Silver Box…
Hitler’s Silver Box is a compelling, exciting thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.
In a two-story Georgian house in one of Chicago’s affluent suburbs, Max Bloomberg, an old bookseller, is brutally killed. Before murdering him, the killers burn his holy books and ask him for ‘the box.’ The old man refuses to give them any information. However, unbeknown to them, he’s left his secret journal to his nephew.
Enters Dr. Bruce Starkman, Chief ER Resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital. Bruce is crushed when he learns about his beloved uncle’s unexpected murder. Although Bruce would like to accept the murder as an unfortunate turn of fate, he soon becomes suspicious. Why was Uncle Max, an orthodox Jew, cremated? Uncle Max would never have allowed cremation. Why was his bookstore vandalized? And why is a black Chevy following Bruce lately? The situation gets more complicated when he inherits a large sum of money and property from his uncle, suddenly making him a suspect.
Thus begins Bruce’s search for the journal, and once he discovers it, the reader is transported to 1945 when Max was 23 years old and a prisoner at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Tension escalates, innocent people are killed, and together with Miriam, a beautiful and extremely smart Israeli woman with military training, Bruce travels to Paris and the Czech Republic. It quickly becomes evident to Bruce that he must outwit the neo-Nazis and find the silver box his uncle built—and the secret document hidden within it—if he is to save the world from an imminent Nazi resurgence.
The premise is ambitious, the stakes are high. Hitler’s Silver Box is a well-written novel full of non-stop action and suspense. The story is written from multiple points of view separated by chapters. From the beginning, I was hooked. The pace is quick and the scenes full of tension. There’s a lot of dialogue and little exposition, thus propelling the action further. I especially found Max’s journal engrossing and compelling, distressing and shocking. The horror of Max’s story touched me at a profound level. It is one of those tales not easily forgotten. The journal adds depth and another dimension to the book. I also liked how the voice, pace and tone in the journal are different from the rest of the novel. The protagonist, Bruce Starkman, is sympathetic and I really enjoyed all his ‘medical’ insights; it’s obvious the author is a medical doctor himself. Miriam, with her quick tongue, adds a lot of color and spunk to the scenes and I wish she had appeared much earlier in the story. I didn’t care much about Bruce’s ex-girlfriend, who’s quite active in the beginning, though keeping in mind what happens to her, I suspect why the author didn’t make her too likable.
In short, Hitler’s Silver Box is a fast-moving, entertaining read and one of those books that would make a good film. Recommended.