The best historically accurate books about Portugal

Who am I?

Louise Ross is a non-fiction and fiction writer, speaker, and podcaster. Originally from Australia, she moved abroad in the mid-'80s, living in the UK, France, the US, and since 2014, Portugal. Her book, Women Who Walk: How 20 women from 16 countries came to live in Portugal, (2019), is a collection of mini-memoirs. In 2020, she released the sequel and comparative read, The Winding Road to Portugal: 20 Men from 11 Countries Share Their Stories. Louise lives on the Estoril coastline where she continues to interview women living in Portugal, and around the world, for her podcast, Women Who Walk


I wrote...

Women Who Walk: How 20 Women From 16 Countries Came To Live In Portugal

By Louise Ross,

Book cover of Women Who Walk: How 20 Women From 16 Countries Came To Live In Portugal

What is my book about?

What compels someone to leave their country of origin, which is the story before their departure? What happens to them on their journey to the new place, which is the story of getting from one place to another? And what causes them to finally land somewhere and decide to stay, if not for the rest of their lives, then for an extended period?

Women Who Walk: How 20 Women from 16 Countries Came to Live in Portugal is a collection of interviews with a diverse group of international women whose stories tell tales of world travel and cultural immersion as a form of higher education, a vehicle for personal growth and expanded awareness of self and others, and an instrument for greater understanding and appreciation of the differences that today too often separate us.

The Books I Picked & Why

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The First Global Village

By Martin Page,

Book cover of The First Global Village

Why this book?

I read this book with great curiosity, as it was my first foray into Portuguese history after moving here. Page takes the reader back in time, when Portugal was ‘Rome on the Atlantic,’ and brings us full circle to Portugal’s Carnation Revolution of 1974. In between, there are ample fascinating examples of the cultural cross pollination that occurred as a result of the Portuguese setting sail in the 15th century on their ‘discoveries.’ For instance, we generally associate battered and deep-fried vegetables with Japanese cuisine, and yet it was the Portuguese, the first westerners to enter Japan, who introduced their traditional dish of green beans, fried in a light batter, that ultimately became Japanese tempura. 


The Portuguese: A Modern History

By Barry Hatton,

Book cover of The Portuguese: A Modern History

Why this book?

On the back cover, Hatton says that his purpose in writing The Portuguese – and this quote made me smile knowingly, and it’s why I bought the book – “is to describe the idiosyncrasies that make this lovely, and sometimes exasperating country unique and to search for explanations, surveying the historical path that drove the Portuguese to where they now stand.” Hatton succeeds beautifully in his endeavour, offering up 280 pages of an enlightening and scintillating read.


Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

By Neill Lochery,

Book cover of Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945

Why this book?

I grew up with lots of stories and books about WWII because my father was a veteran. What is different about this book’s narrative is Portugal’s position of neutrality during the Second World War and the resulting web of political intrigue. Salazar, Portugal’s dictator at the time, played both sides, aligning with the British, all the while selling off Portugal’s Tungsten, a metal used to produce armor-piercing projectiles (which apparently melted the British tanks), to the Germans for gold that the Nazi’s looted. And at the end of the war, all that gold helped Portugal emerge economically intact. 


The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon

By Richard Zimler,

Book cover of The Last Kabbalist in Lisbon

Why this book?

Zimler is an award-winning American writer who has lived in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, since 1990. I admire Zimler’s historical fiction for its fact-based accuracy, and The Last Kabbalist is a beauty for that reason. His acclaimed novel details the Portuguese inquisition and the massacre of its Jews in 1506. Via his incisive research and great storytelling, Zimler sheds light on this period of history unknown to many Portuguese; as a result, there is now a Jewish Memorial Plaque in Rossio Square in Lisbon’s city center, honouring the two to five thousand Jews who were massacred. 


Estoril

By Dejan Tiago-Stankovic, Christina Pribichevich-Zoric (translator),

Book cover of Estoril

Why this book?

Part spy novel, part historical fiction, this book tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who’s been deposited by his parents at the Hotel Palacio in Estoril for safekeeping during WWII, when the hotel was home to exiled European nobles and royalty, British and German spies. We meet the Polish pianist, Yan Paderewski; Ian Fleming, the British spy novelist and creator of James Bond; French writer and flyer Antoine de St. Exupery; the ex-king of Romania, Carol II, and his mistress Elena Lupescu, the woman for whom he renounced the crown. We’re privy to the goings-on at the Hotel via the lives of this cast of colourful characters in a way that’s reminiscent of the quirky movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel


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