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The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II, by Mary Jo McConahay, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2018, $29.99

The Tango War sheds light on events in Latin America during World War II. Drawing on primary sources including firsthand interviews with survivors, respected journalist and author McConahay makes a significant contribution to wartime literature.  

Fighting in Latin America during World War II raged in the shadowy recesses of covert operations rather than open combat. As battles devastated cities elsewhere in the world, underground logistical systems and spies throughout Latin America worked relentlessly and ruthlessly to provide supplies and information to both the Allied and Axis powers. McConahay scrupulously details such operations. Highlights of her narrative include Allied efforts to dominate Brazil’s rubber industry and Axis attempts to funnel war materiel to Europe using regional airlines. The accounts underscore Latin America’s wartime importance as a supply resource.

McConahay also focuses on the human aspect of the conflict, examining how the war affected specific regional populations, such as Peruvians of Japanese origin forcibly removed to concentration camps, Brazilian Jews targeted for discrimination by local Germans, and Latin Americans of German descent wrongfully extradited to the United States as security threats. These accounts emphasize the war’s impact on everyday Latin Americans and subsequent generations.

The Tango War has two notable shortcomings regarding its narrative structure: a lack of chronological flow and its narrow focus on only five countries in Latin America. The exclusion of so many other nations leaves gaps of information in an otherwise comprehensive history. Overall, however, it is an enjoyable read for any World War II enthusiast seeking to learn about operations beyond the familiar theaters of Europe and the Pacific. 

—Chris Booth