Alan Hlad’s new book tells of love and the saga of Jews in WWII Lisbon


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American writer Alan Hlad told Lusa that his new book “THE BOOK SPY”, recently published in Portugal, is “a story of love and hope for better times”, developed in Lisbon, with Portuguese characters.

The narrative is set against the backdrop of World War II (1939-1945) and addresses the problem of the Nazi troops’ persecution of Jews who seek to escape through clandestine routes to Lisbon, a neutral city and a stopover for the United States.

The author argued that this novel aims to “show what the Jews went through during World War II, but history repeats itself and today we are faced with the war in Ukraine and the flow of refugees” seeking living conditions in Europe, coming from emergency situations, trying to survive hunger, war and also authoritarian regimes.

Alan Hlad's new book tells of love and the saga of Jews in WWII Lisbon

In the WWII scenario, there is another battlefront, where librarians close ranks to defeat the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan), and contribute to the victory of the Allies (United States, United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations, France and several other nations such as Brazil, the Netherlands or Denmark).

These librarians form the Intergovernmental Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications (CID). Experts in microfilm, the librarians are deployed to neutral cities like Lisbon, where they acquire enemy publications as a way of attaining data from the Axis powers, which were handed over to US intelligence for analysis.

“This committee did exist. In fact, the novel is based on real facts,” the author said. One of the characters in the novel is then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945).

Speaking to the Lusa news agency, Hlad said that the idea of writing this novel came from reading an article about this special section of the US secret services, and wanted to “talk about the role of Lisbon at that time”.

Hlad started writing during the pandemic, declared in 2020.

One of the CID’s employees is Maria Alves, the daughter of photojournalists Gaspar, from Coimbra, who likes wine and “bacalhau à braz”, and Elise, from Munich, who comes to work in Lisbon.

About this character who, in a determined way, manages to enter the CID, Hlad said he wanted to “build a strong character with roots”, highlighting “his Portuguese ancestors”.

In the Portuguese capital, a bookshop run by Tiago Soares, 28, who is Jewish on his mother’s side, serves as a front for receiving Jews and facilitating forged documents that allow them to travel to the United States. At the same time, it is a point of arrival on a clandestine route from Toulouse sponsored by his Jewish grandparents.

Alan Hlad is of Austro-Hungarian descent, currently lives in Lisbon, is a member of the Historical Novel Society of Cleveland and the Akron Writer’s Group. He has previously published “A Long Way Home” (2021), also set in World War II.

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