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It was like leading a double life. For seven years, in the early morning or at lunch or on weekends, Lisa Fleischman would find snippets of time around her duties as an New York Eastern District U.S. prosecutor to work on a novel — loosely based on the life of her late grandmother in turn-of-the-century China — that seemed truly to be in her blood. A project that had grown out of family stories and Fleischman’s own travels in China retracing her grandmother’s experiences, the book followed the coming-of-age of its narrator in the tumultuous decades leading up to the Communist triumph in the Cultural Revolution. But even as the novel turned into a finished product and began to attract attention from publishers, Fleischman kept its existence a secret from her colleagues in the New York Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, out of a superstitious fear of jinxing its success. “I didn’t tell anybody anything about a book until I sold it,” she recalled recently. “It was all private.” Now the secret is out. The novel, “Dream of the Walled City,” has just been released by the Pocket Books imprint of Simon & Schuster under Fleischman’s pen name, Lisa Huang Fleischman. And she will begin a coast-to-coast tour of bookstore readings this week — fittingly enough, at the Barnes & Noble around the corner from her office in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Born in Taiwan to a Chinese mother and an American father, Fleischman, 36, spent a peripatetic childhood living in Malaysia, Korea, Kenya and Ghana, the family moving along with her father’s work for a refugee relief organization. She attended junior high school and high school outside Los Angeles before moving on to the University of California at Berkeley. During law school at Columbia University, Fleischman spent her first summer working on fact-finding investigations of murders and disappearances for a human rights group in the Philippines in the months after the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos. After graduation in 1988, she took a year off and spent several months traveling in China. She stumbled on the beginning of the Tiananmen Square protests in the spring of 1989 and continued to attend them during the month she spent in Beijing. BIRTH OF AN IDEA It was during a visit on the same trip to Changsha, the capital of the Hunan province and the birthplace of her late maternal grandmother, that the idea of for novel began to take shape. Later, taping interviews with her mother and other relatives and with family friends, Fleischman learned the story of her grandmother, a political activist and acquaintance of Mao Tse-Tung believed to be the first woman in China elected to a provincial assembly. (She made campaign speeches from a sedan chair because her feet were bound — a common practice for young Chinese women at the time.) Fleischman’s career as a lawyer began with a two-and-a-half-year stint as a litigation associate at White & Case. She joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn in 1992 and later spent four years trying cases in the Narcotics Bureau. She received a Department of Justice Director’s Award in 1997 for her work prosecuting leaders of the Cali drug cartel, and also worked on the 1998 drug conspiracy prosecution of nightclub owner Peter Gatien, a case that ended in more than 40 convictions, although Gatien was acquitted. After two years as the deputy chief of the General Crimes Bureau, Flesichman returned to trying cases last year. She now works largely on public corruption and tax fraud prosecutions. STARTING THE NOVEL Meanwhile, Fleischman had decided soon after returning from China to try to turn the fragments of biography and oral history she had gleaned about her grandmother’s life into a novel. An English major at University of California, Berkeley, Fleischman is a voracious reader with a fondness for Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoy and Nabokov. But at the time she had no experience writing fiction. “It took six or seven years to write the novel because I kept writing and throwing out, writing and throwing out,” she said. “I hadn’t taken any creative writing classes, so I was sort of teaching myself to write a novel.” Months at a time would go by when the book lay untouched, followed by stretches of frenetic activity when Fleischman would write for hours on end without looking up. She retains vivid memories of spending summer weekends writing in her un-airconditioned apartment while all her friends went to the beach. “I was just thrashing around,” she explained. “I’d write huge chunks and then throw it all out never to see the light of day, until at some point I hit the zone.” Frequently, Fleischman would write during stolen moments in the day. In one instance, she recalled writing poems that later ended up in the book as the judge read his charge to the jury in a case. And interestingly, Fleischman said that the life of a prosecutor is unexpectedly good training for an author’s powers of observation. “Criminal prosecution is just the ground zero of human motivation,” she said. “Every day I observe people at their most nakedly motivated.” Fleischman finished the novel around Christmas in 1998 and quickly found an agent through friends involved in entertainment law. She signed contracts with Simon & Schuster and a European distributor last year that provided total advances in the six-figure range.The novel, she said, has been enthusiastically received in Europe and was given a positive review by Publishers Weekly, which called it “earnest and emotionally astute.” Now that her double life is out in the open, Fleischman is keeping the same busy schedule. She is still trying cases and she is working on a second novel, although she would not discuss it — again for fear of jinxing its chances. But she said that the sensation of working in two very different spheres is immensely satisfying. “I like the disjunction,” she said. “You feel as though you go back to your writing and you’ve really changed your world. It’s very refreshing.”

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