According to the author, Jeannine Johnson Maia, this is a book where you can learn and experience Portugal’s past.
A story of 19th century Porto, as the city prepares to inaugurate Gustavo Eiffel’s magnificent iron bridge over the Douro River, 17-year-old Henrique is thrilled to be escaping the harsh conditions of life far upriver among the vineyards of a Port wine estate. Behind him is a searing betrayal he wants to forget. Ahead of him is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in a goldsmith’s shop in Porto.
Nothing goes as anticipated. Upon arriving, Henrique inadvertently makes an enemy of the man who brought him to Porto and encounters a bitter rival in the goldsmith’s shop. Yet as he goes about learning the art of making delicate filigree jewelry, he begins to find his place in this newly industrialising city that’s buzzing with innovations and ideas.
Then an acquaintance from his past in the Douro Valley reappears, dredging up old accusations of thievery and threatening to break the tenuous hold Henrique has on his new life. Knowing the risks of being accused, once again, of something he didn’t do, the boy must decide how far he’s willing to go to save himself.
Before moving to Portugal, Jeannine worked as a journalist in Belgium and Washington D.C. and served as a press specialist at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, among others.
She is now the author of two historical fiction novels that take place in Portugal, “The Filigree Master’s Apprentice” and “Rossio Square Nº 59”, living in Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto a city she finds irresistibly photogenic.
When Jeannine worked at the press office in the U.S. Embassy, doing press releases and writing articles, she realised wanted to write creatively and started working on ideas for a novel. “I was looking for something to write about, I was living in Belgium at the time and found out about Lisbon in WWII, it was interesting”, the author told The Portugal News.
With a passion for history along with studies of international relations, she manages to achieve a slightly political and societal angle, also incorporating a theme of historical fiction in her books. The author mentioned enjoying doing lots of research, “I like to get into my car and go out in the field to study the locations I mention in my works. I always like to challenge myself with each new book.”
“I always start with a time and place that I want to write about, then I figure out who’s going to live in that time and place and what the drama and conflicts going to be”, said Jeannine.
“I wanted to write about Porto, I learned that Eiffel (Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower and creator of the metal framework for the Statue of Liberty), had built a bridge in Porto, the Ponte de D. Maria Pia and said that’s a sign, I want Eiffel in my book”. She started doing research about the period and talked to a historian with a chronology of the city, that stated that nothing had occurred that year, aside from the inauguration of the Ponte D. Maria Pia.
“I figured there’s still a very interesting context, it was a period where a lot of people were coming to Porto to work. Portugal was late in industrialisation but they were starting to have factories in 1877, so where people coming from Minho, from Douro, among other regions”, she said.
When finding out about the islands in Porto, in which the very poor people who went to work in the factories lived, something very specific to Portugal, she decided to put her character on an island and represent the life of the population at the time.
With this novel, Jeannine decided to write in the present tense and first person. “I’m talking as “I”, which means I had to put myself in the shoes of a 17-year-old young man, in 1877, from Portugal. How would that person actually feel?”, Adding that it demands a lot of research and imagination.
When asked about what she means to transmit with these books, Jeannie explained the goal for the reader is to experience aspects of the country that they might not know about in a fictionalised way, creating interest in finding out more about the time or the place.
“I never lived here before, although I’ve been visiting for a long time, it’s really a way for me to make this country my own, it’s also a way to give back to a country that I’m grateful for and enjoy living in,” she concluded.
To purchase a copy of Jeannine Johnson Maia’s book, in Portuguese you can find it in bookstores, Fnac and Wook. In English, you can order it from Amazon.
A journalist that’s always eager to learn about new things. With a passion for travel, adventure and writing about this diverse world of ours.
“Wisdom begins in wonder” - Socrates