By Dejan Tiago-Stanković
Famed for its beautiful sandy beaches, Estoril is a fashionable Portuguese beach resort on the Iberian Peninsula. During the Second World War its authoritarian, pro-fascist regime elected to remain neutral, but continued to trade with the Allies and Nazi Germany, making this picturesque area a haven for refugees.
Based on true events, Dejan Tiago-Stanković’s comedic novel is set in the town’s imposing Palácio Estoril Hotel, which is just west of Lisbon on the Portuguese Riviera. It was built in 1930 and, aesthetically, it has changed little in the intervening years. A great many displaced people stayed here in luxury between 1940 and 1945, among them secret agents, diplomats, stateless Jews, novelists, wealthy Yugoslavs and any number outcast aristocrats and royals in exile. In consequence, the region became known as the ‘Coast of Kings’.
Estoril: A War Novel is a hotchpotch of invented characters and historical figures – the latter including the likes of Ian Fleming and Antoine De St Exupery – all observed from a discreet distance by the Portuguese secret police who are keen to prevent espionage less it compromise their country’s official impartiality. Among the many staff, residents and mysterious persons loitering in the lobby are the Palácio’s busy manager, Mr. Black; nine-year-old Gaby, a Hassidic Jew, travelling alone and waiting for his parents to follow; Senhor Cardoso, a senior inspector and head of Estoril Unit of the PVDE (the political police); Mr. Paderewski, the once musically gifted and now former Prime Minister of Poland; Ivan, the double agent; and oh so many more. From concierge to cook, everyone has a tale to tell.
The author was born in the former Yugoslavia in 1965 and became an illegal immigrant in London during the ’90s, unable to return home for the duration of the Balkan conflict. He writes in the author’s preamble that he well knows “how war feels, even when you are out of danger.” I sense the novel has at its heart his own experience of exile.
Estoril is all but impossible to summarize in one pithy sentence, falling as it does into so many genres: humour, historic fiction, war, etc. The best I can come up with is that it’s a combination between a James Bond setting, an old Ealing comedy; a scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel; a Tom Sharpe novel without the crudity; and an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Helpful at all?
Very well, since you insist: it’s a light and amusing spy story set in the golden age of the Riviera Portuguesa!
Many thanks to Head of Zeus for supplying an advance review copy of this title.