Excerpted from The Amber Room by Steve Berry. Copyright © 2003 by Steve Berry. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Conversation with Steve Berry
Question: Where did the idea for The Amber Room come from?
Steve Berry: In 1995, I was listening to a program on the Discovery channel, not watching, only listening from another room. The narrator was talking about the Amber Room. I caught only the last few minutes of the show, but the idea fascinated me. Unfortunately, not enough information came from the television show for me to even know what the Amber Room was. I actually, at first, thought it was a painting. All I learned from the little I heard was that it was stolen from the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and had not been seen since 1945. So I went to the bookstore and thumbed through Russian travel guides until I found a reference. It took several more months of research to formulate the novel's plot.
Q: What type of research did you do?
SB: At that time, there were precious few English version texts which dealt with the Amber Room. The Internet then contained little info, though today it’s full of relevant websites. I wrote the book with what I could find, then traveled to St. Petersburg in 1996 to see the work being done on restoring the Amber Room. The Russians had been laboring for more than a decade, trying to re-create the original from 1930s black and white photographs. After spending two hours with the chief restorer I realized a lot of the details I'd written were wrong. So I rewrote the book and fixed everything.
Q: What is the Amber Room?
SB: Created in the mid-18th century, many say it was the greatest achievement man ever accomplished with amber. The room was 100,000 pieces of jewel grade amber, cut to 5 mm thick, polished, sometimes heated to change the color, then glued jigsaw-puzzle-style onto oak panels and fashioned to walls 30 x 13 feet. There were also a variety of fanciful figurines, floral garlands, tulips, roses, sea shells, monogrammes, and rocaille, all of amber in glittering shades of brown, red, yellow, and orange. Incredibly, the amber panels survived a 170 years and the Bolshevik Revolution intact only to be looted by the Nazis in 1941. The panels disappeared in 1945 and have never been seen since. That, in and of itself, is fascinating. Where did such an incredible treasure go?
Q: What about your main characters?
SB: My protagonists are often lawyers, but they are lawyers doing some very unlawyerly things. I want them thrown into difficult situations for which they are ill prepared – but over which, in the end, they prevail. In The Amber Room, my protagonists are a female judge and her ex-husband, who is a probate lawyer. They are divorced from each other and, along the way to finding the Amber Room, they discover things not only about each other but about themselves. I also like to break stereotypes. The Amber Room has a potent male ensemble, but there are also two strong female characters who play an intricate role in the plot. So there’s a human angle to this globe-trotting treasure hunt.
Q: And how about accuracy, is the information in the book true?
SB: Most of the information contained within The Amber Room is true. I try to educate while entertaining. Readers can consult the Writer’s Note at the end of the book, which delineates where liberties were taken.
Q: How did the book make it into print?
SB: I first wrote the novel in 1995. It was submitted for publication in 1997 and was rejected by eighteen major publishers. The manuscript sat in a folder until February 2002 when I asked my agent if she would resubmit it. Usually, resubmission is a no-no, but she agreed and Ballantine Books bought the story in May 2002. Which only goes to show: never give up.