The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
This weekend travel back in time to World War II era Portugal and the breathtakingly glamorous Hotel Palácio Estoril. You’ll mix-and-mingle with the beautiful people hiding out from the war, and have your heart stolen by a 10-year-old exile named Gaby.
Estoril is a charming, affecting novel that tells the interwoven stories of guests at a luxurious hotel in Lisbon during the Second World War. At its heart is the friendship between 10-year-old Gaby and Mr. Black, the ever-so-proper hotelier.
During the War, Portugal remained neutral while the rest of Europe was ablaze. This made it a getaway for a privileged few whose wealth allowed them to hide from reality for a while, along with the other human flotsam that washed up on the sunny shores: spies, pilots, princes, and other people of talent, if not integrity.
Our hero Gaby is a young exile sent to the hotel’s relative safety by his Jewish parents, desperate to get beyond the reach of the Nazis. When the hotelier Mr. Black meets Gaby, he breaks all of his own rules about propriety, allowing the serious and besuited little boy to take up residence in a hotel room. Soon, Gaby is ‘adopted’ by the staff and guests as they ride out the war together.
Dejan Tiago-Stankovic — born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and now a naturalized citizen of Portugal — tells a tough story with a light touch. The fictional characters who become Gaby’s found family share the elegant spaces of the hotel with real-life historical figures, including British agent Ian Fleming, Russian chess grandmaster Alexander Alekhine, the famous Polish pianist Jan Paderewski, and French writer (and pilot) Antoine de St Exupery. It’s a fantastical and whimsical way to move the story forward, a respite from the bleak reality of wartime.
Tiago-Stankovic’s prose is descriptive and lyrical; the translation by Christina Pribichevich-Zoric is smooth and lush. You’ll feel the soft breeze rolling in from the beach, hear the clink of champagne glasses in the cocktail lounge, and fervently wish for a mentor like Mr. Black in your life.
Pssst… This novel is like a mashup of the films Casablanca (well-off refugees from the war killing time until life is ‘normal’ again) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (quirky characters that steal and break your heart) in book form. It makes for a very satisfying book pairing with A Gentleman in Moscow for two distinct looks at life inside a hotel during WWII.
When you approach Lisbon from the sea, just before the boat turns into the river, to the left, in the background, you will see a bluish mountain. That is Sintra. It blocks the path of the rain clouds, and as a result, Estoril offers visitors more hours of sunshine than any other resort in Europe. At least so says the tourist brochure for the ‘Sunshine Coast’… Perched among its palm trees, cypress trees, and variegated bushes, is the famous resort’s biggest attraction: the Grand Casino Estoril. Right next to it is a white, three-story building, its windows offering stunning views of the park and ocean. And on top of its dark roof is a big sign saying: HOTEL PALÁCIO. — Dejan Tiago-Stankovic
This charming historical novel (352 pages) was published in October of 2019 by Apollo. The book takes you to WWII Lisbon, Portugal. Melissa read Estoril and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
Top image courtesy of Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.