By BILL DUNCAN
John Clark Pratt has written or edited 18 books in his career as an English professor, including a critical analysis of Oregon’s Ken Kesey classic “One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest,” and one other novel, “The Laotian Fragments,” a Vietnam war epic.
Pratt writes fiction from the viewpoint of an eyewitness to the events around, which he wraps a plot. He served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam and in his novel, the research was with boots on the ground.
His latest book, “American Affairs,” is another case in point. Pratt was on a Fullbright Fellowship in Portugal in 1974 and 1975 when he witnessed the events that gives credence to this novel.
Pratt works his novel around the Carnation Revolution, a bloodless coup in Portugal in 1974 that resulted in toppling of the dictatorship that had prevailed for almost 50 years.
The charm of the book is that Pratt works in historic facts in the narrative not only about the Carnation Revolution, but also anecdotes of historic note in the telling of the story.
His writing strength is evident in the first chapter when his protagonist, Chris Jefferson, an American college professor teaching in Lisbon during the troubled 1970s, answers the door bell to his apartment and is immediately kidnapped by two bearded men whom Pratt describes as looking like the Smith Brothers of the cough drop ads. Jefferson is blindfolded and hidden under a blanket on the floorboard of an old Volvo and is taken on a wild ride through the streets of Lisbon.
His character Chris focuses his memory on the route he is traveling in order to know where he is being taken. He listens, as his captors talk in both Portuguese and English about his impending fate and is not pleased with what he hears.
Chapter One sets the plot in motion. To put the novel in perspective Pratt expertly does a flashback in which Chris meets Teresa, on a train from Madrid to Lisbon. She plays a key role throughout the story. While Chris is smitten with this Latin beauty, the love story angle doesn’t take away from the plot.
Jefferson is in harm’s way simply because he is an American even though he is taking no part in the revolution. However, all North Americans as suspected of meddling in the affairs of Portugal because the CIA and the State Department is concerned about a communist takeover of the country.
Even Teresa suspects Jefferson of being a CIA agent and asks him point blank if he is a member of “Seeah,” the common Portuguese pronunciation of CIA, although he has no connection to the CIA. But finds himself tragically involved in the deteriorating political happenings of 1974.
Pratt manages to weave bits of history in his narrative and even has his protagonist discovering a bit of trivia from World War II when Portugal, a neutral country, was a gathering place of intelligence for both the Allies and the Axis forces. Jefferson learns that the bar in the Grand Palacio Hotel worked out a peace accord between the American and the German officers in which the Americans would have access to the bar from five to six p.m. and the Germans from six to seven p.m.
The charm of the book is Pratt’s ability to work in those intriguing facts in the story. The book concludes with Jefferson’s rescue by the very soldiers who led the coup d’etal to overthrow the authoritarian dictatorship.
Pratt has done a masterful job of working a plot around this little known footnote of history. All the fears of a Marxist takeover of Portugal did not materialize and on April 25, 1974 the military coup effectively ended a totalitarian dictatorship and replaced it with a liberal democracy.
As an aside, the revolution was named, the “Carnation Revolution” since the Lisbon flower market was the central gathering place for the jubilant Portuguese Celebration of their freedom. The market just happened to be richly stocked with carnations, which were in season.
(Bill Duncan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470.)