“Lisbon” by Jack DuArte. Lexington: Cloud Nine Press, 2021. 235 pages, $15.95 (paperback).
Jack DuArte is a New Orleans native and decorated Vietnam War veteran who lives in Lexington. He has published a series of World War II novels that include “The Resistance,” “Singapore,” “Spitfire,” “Malta,” “The White Mouse,” “Kidnap the Pope,” “The First James Bond” and “The Shetland Bus.”
His newest book, “Lisbon,” is “a work of love” for the author because he is of Portuguese extraction. He explains in the Afterword that his “grandfather made me aware of the former greatness and beautiful customs and cuisine of Portugal that I have tried to display in ‘Lisbon.’ ”
Focusing on Portugal’s involvement in World War II is very unusual for histories or novels about this period, but Portugal was a neutral country in the early years of the war and as such enjoyed a kind of “middleman” status that made it a target for refugees trying to escape the Nazi occupation of so much of western Europe. When Germany began to occupy France in 1940, Portuguese consulates were inundated with requests for entrance visas by refugees. Adolf Hitler hoped that Portugal and Spain, both led by autocratic rulers (António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco) would join the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The Germans also depended on these two countries for the wolfram (tungsten) ore that was essential for improving the quality of many of their weapons.
In “Lisbon,” the author includes 16 chapters, each consisting of short sections that focus on Lisbon, but rotate from Portuguese officials to Spanish, German and British ones, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The period covered is essentially one year, from May 1940 to May 1941, with one final piece from June 1942. Churchill is worried that as the Germans take over France he will have to withdraw the British Expeditionary Force from France and prepare for a possible German invasion of England. One of the main characters is a Portuguese lady named Izaura Veigas Ribeiro, who had recently completed her law studies and with the help of her uncle received a job in the British Ambassador’s Office in Lisbon. The German ambassador to Portugal tries to keep other Nazis from offending the Portuguese but is not very successful. The British are concerned about visits to Portugal and Spain by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duke, of course, had been King Edward VIII before he resigned in favor of his brother so he could marry the woman he loved (Wallis Simpson). The British worry that the Duke might speak out against Britain’s role in the war and influence these neutral countries. The Duke is concerned that he and his wife might be kidnapped, but that situation is resolved when the British offer him a post in the Bahamas.
The author very skillfully weaves from story to story and shows how the British are spying on the Germans while the Germans have no idea that the Enigma machine has successfully decoded their secret messages and the British have a major advantage the Germans know nothing about. The British learn that the Germans have secretly placed one of their scientists in Portugal and they fear that he will improve the power of German munitions by his experiments with wolfram. One of the British secret agents hires Izaura to interview women working in Lisbon’s brothels to gather information about their German customers and this proves to be very helpful in tracking down their scientist. Several episodes also relate to the miraculous British evacuation of numerous soldiers from Dunkirk.
Tension builds in the novel as British agents plot to blow up a large shipment of wolfram leaving Portugal for Germany while also planning to eliminate the German scientist whose research on improving the quality of wolfram is carried on secretly in a remote part of Portugal. These agents must be very careful not to offend Salazar’s government with their covert operations and jeopardize Portuguese neutrality. Another consideration is the resurgence of the Portuguese Communist Party, which is planning to destroy a historic church or public building to spark recruitment to their cause.
One interesting aspect of the relationship between England and Portugal is the alliance between the two countries that had existed for 550 years. I would have liked to read more about the Portuguese Exhibition of 1940 that imitated the New York World’s Fair of the previous year. Just some details on individual exhibits would have shown more about what the country was particularly proud of. DuArte does include several references to Portuguese food and drink as agents rotate carefully around each other in Lisbon bars and restaurants.
The author provides a section at the end on “Heroes and Adversaries” that explains what happens to the historical characters included in his story. The character of Izaura has the same first name as his late aunt, but he does not discuss whether other characters or events in his book were based on historical events. The main criticism I have of the book is the sloppy job of proofreading. This is not just a matter of omitting umlauts on several of the German words, but, for example, the word legation, although spelled correctly in a few instances, is misspelled some 10 times. However, if readers can ignore all of the typographical errors they will find “Lisbon” to be an interesting story that provides fascinating insight into a little-known aspect of the World War II story. The book is engaging and hard to put down and I recommend the story highly. The author’s books are available at Amazon or from jack duarte.net.
– Reviewed by Richard Weigel, Western Kentucky University History Department.