English version of the article in Portugal’s Jornal de Notícias newspaper (November 14, 2018)
I Seek Out Those Who Have To Flee, Hide, Love And Survive
World War II Lisbon is the inspiration for Jeannine Johnson Maia’s first novel, “Rossio Square N°59.”
By Sergio Almeida
Jeannine Johnson Maia, who has lived in Portugal for 20 months, is not simply one of the thousands of foreigners who have chosen to live in Europe’s westernmost country.
In addition to expressing herself in very adequate Portuguese and taking Portuguese nationality, she’s written “Praça do RossioN°59” [Rossio Square N°59], a novel that takes place in a Lisbon full of spies and refugees during World War II. Written while she was living in Belgium, the book is nevertheless credible as concerns the subject and the accuracy of its historical reconstruction. The author, who used books, the Internet, and various visits to Lisbon to research her novel, says she accumulated so much material that she finally had to put on the brakes or she “never would have finished the book.”
“Some Portuguese readers have praised the book’s historical rigor. It’s the highestpraise I can receive,” notes the former journalist, who says she became “fascinated” with the period when she read about the intrigue that typified Lisbon during the war. The capital’s role as an “open door in a closed Europe” sparked the author’s imagination and, over time, grew into the story of the novel’s two main characters (Claire, a French-[American] refugee, and Antonio, a young Portuguese man) whose destinies cross in Lisbon during nine short days.
The recent discovery of Portugal by millions of tourists is seen by Jeannine Johnson Maia as “a positive sign,” although this influx also has less positive effects, such as “the increase in rents and the cost of living.”
In all of the projects she becomes involved in, the novelist says she looks “for the stories behind the history.” She says: “I don’t want to write about battles. There are historians for that. I choose to look for the human drama. Not people who are in the war, but those who are touched by the conflict. Those who are forced to flee, to hide, to love and to survive in those turbulent times.”
Porto Could Be The Location Of Her Next Novel
If Lisbon is a main character in “Praça do Rossio N°59,”the new novel she’s researching might see a change in location to Porto, the city where she came to live less than two years ago. Recently, she’s been learning about the immense history of this old city, in part by “participating in guided tours given by some of the city’s fantastic historians.”