In the half-dark, the peacock was simply a silhouette, its beauty invisible, its dance merely disturbing the air. But with the first rays of the still pale sun, the bird, mesmerized by the attention, strutted like a cock waiting for a fight: it spread wide its tail on the ground and when each of its golden eyes was in place it slowly lifted the entire display and calmed down.
As colour infused the monochrome dawn the light slowly changed. The royal blue of the peacock’s breast, the colourful fan of it’s gold-studded tail, and its royal crown began to blaze.
Hidden in the semi-darkness between two burning cigarettes were two pairs of eyes that had never seen anything so beautiful.
The king took a deep drag on his cigarette, waited for a second, and then exhaled through his nose before speaking.
‘Popov, what do you think?’ He hesitated before finishing his question. ‘Do you eat those?’
A young Jewish boy turns up at the Palacio Estoril hotel outside Lisbon as war breaks out in Europe advising the manager that he is to stay there until his parents arrive, as they are currently trapped at the French border.
He soon befriends the staff of the hotel and with the help of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, catches a dog for companionship.
As the war rages on in the background, the hotel houses a whole host of the lost and hiding, from the ex king of Romania, refugees from Yugoslavia, Ian Fleming, a Russian world chess champion to a German spy and an English spy, all of whom Gaby talks to or befriends in one way or another.
I don’t know why, by I was just left cold by Estoril. I don’t know if it’s because I have zero interest in the Second World War, but even as a narrative story, I felt I just couldn’t work out what the point of it was. I though that Gaby would be used to tie all of the disparate characters together in the plot, which he kind of does in that he talks to them, but then there are chapters where he does not feature and not even mentioned. If it’s a story about the characters, then the hotel itself would have served as the linchpin of the narrative, there would be no need for Gaby. Aside from that, it is interesting the convergence of all these characters in one place at one time, and I believe it is based on a real hotel and it’s possible that there was a real life Gaby. The story around Popov is interesting in it’s own right and this intertwined well with the other threads of the narrative.
Still I feel like I have completely missed the point, and it’s quite possible that I have. There is a valid argument of if I have no interest in the subject matter why did I pick the book up, but I love Portugal and the book is set there, and also I am always happy to try and find new authors that I might like.
The prose is engaging enough, and I enjoyed reading about these people that I had never heard of, and it’s certainly not a bad book, but it’s just not great either.
This torrent of words was unnecessary. The little arrogance that the border guards still had left evaporated at the mere mention of writing an official report, however short, that the Prime Minister would personally read the very next day. The passport was quickly stamped, with a flurry of bows and apologies, and handed over to the diplomat. In appreciation, a twenty escudo bill was slipped into the pocket of the higher-rank officer.
‘There you are, Dusan. A multi-entry-exit visa,’ said Ducic, handing the passport to Popov. ‘It’s better this way. Just in case. You may need it again tomorrow. One never knows. These are dangerous times.’