Five Days, Five Nights, was written by Manuel Tiago ( the pen name of Portuguese Communist Alvaro Cunhal) in the 1950s, whilst he was a prisoner of the fascist regime that ran Portugal for nearly fifty years. The story only takes up fifty nine pages, a story of a young man, Andre, and his escape from Portugal to Spain.
“Just short of turning nineteen, Andre was forced to emigrate. They raised money for him, they gave him an address in Porto, and they told him passage would be worked out for him across the border to Spain.”
Andre was now following the path of many people who were forced to escape his homeland and find asylum elsewhere in the world. In 1960 the author fled the country and lived in Moscow and Paris organising the Portuguese Communist Party until he returned in 1974 after the fall of the fascist regime when he became a Minister in the Government.
Reading Andre’s story I could not be untouched by that of the author. Alvaro was tortured in prison, including enduring solitary confinement for many years. The story does not refer to Andre’s time in prison, maybe because if it had done it would not have escaped the regime’s censor, but there is an underlying sadness in the character of Andre.
Lambaca is the guide whose job it is to get Andre safely to Spain. But they just don’t get on. Lambaca is used to taking more important people across while Andre has little faith in him. The ongoing tension between the two men runs throughout the book. The hazardous journey is reflected in the landscape as the two men trudge through the mountains.
Andre constantly asks Lambaca “when are we crossing?”.
Andre stood there alone, not knowing what to do, and waited a long time. On an unfamiliar mountain range, in a border zone, with no idea where he was, worn-out and famished – the dangers started adding up in earnest.
The novella contrasts vividly the lives of politicos such as young Andre and the peasantry on whom he becomes dependent for shelter and food on his journey.
The woman who quieted the dog brought him bread, sausage and a pot of coffee. In her animated face that showed traces of nobility, a pair of honest eyes looked at him with curiosity. “So young!” she remarked.
Stories about people crossing to Europe for sanctuary are not new in 2020. But this story is brought alive by the author’s powerful and sparse vocabulary. He leaves the reader to fill in the gaps, and like Andre, to make one’s own judgements about the lives he observes on his journey to freedom.
Before reading this novella I knew little about Alvaro Cunhal and I am grateful to translator Eric A. Gordon for a fascinating introduction. Ilse Gordon produced the beautiful illustrations on the front cover and for each chapter.
Buy it here
It was published by International Publishers see http://www.intpubnyc.com