Thursday, January 10, 2019

David A. Taylor's "Cork Wars"

Journalist David A. Taylor teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America and Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World.

Taylor applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test is uncanny in the case of Cork Wars. When I open to that page in the published version, it's the start of a key chapter illuminating the hidden world at the heart of the story: the industrial espionage during World War II that embroiled worked in the cork industry in the intelligence game, caught in neutral countries and reporting to U.S. spy agencies on what they found. The chapter, "Among the Spies in Lisbon," follows American businessman Melchor Marsa, whom we've already met. A naturalized American who settled in Brooklyn and raised a family, and returned to Europe in the 1930s to manage the plants in Spain and Portugal for the American company, Crown Cork and Seal.

Page 99 notes, as Marsa returns to Lisbon in the spring of 1943 with support of the OSS (predecessor to the CIA): "The city was awash with spies from both sides. Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, and the notorious Kim Philby were busy sleuthing for the British..." It goes on to describe how Marsa, while new to the ways of espionage, was at home in the world of Lisbon's convoluted business relationships, and how his family received news of him.

The book weaves together three family stories of the war as it affected working people: from the company owner to the manager to the people working on the factory floor. For Marsa's story, his daughter Gloria proved an invaluable guide, as she lived with her parents in Lisbon before the U.S. entered the war, and could describe the tumultuous atmosphere of the city as well as relate what she knew of her father's experience. She brought Melchor Marsa to life, the person behind the documents and declassified secret government files that I had found in my research.
Visit The Cork Wars website.

--Marshal Zeringue