Thirteen stories are gathered here, and in them Manuel Tiago rises to his most lyrical in his descriptions of nature and landscape and to his most humorous as he regales his readers with tales of amusing contretemps, mixed signals, false identities, linguistic mistakes, and narrow, fortuitous escapes.
In these fictional accounts of crossing borders, the reader will visit foreign cities, see brilliant visions and landscapes, sail the oceans, scale mountains, board ocean liners, trains and planes, communicate in a number of foreign languages, and engage in a kind of political tourism, meeting helpful comrades all along the way.
Manuel Tiago’s ‘Border Crossings’: People’s World interviews the translator
Debora Zamorano –
Tiago, Manuel [Álvaro Cunhal]. Border Crossings. International Publishers, 2021. Pp. 115.
Border Crossings is a captivating collection of fictional stories about illegal border crossings by members of the Portuguese Communist Party in the 1930s and 40s. The characters in these stories crossed European borders fleeing from a dictatorship. These escapes encompass political exiles, self-exiles, underground communists, political beliefs, and seeking a better life. The author’s name, Manuel Tiago, was a pseudonym used by Álvaro Cunhal, the historical leader of the Portuguese Communist Party from 1961 to 1992. Cunhal spent nearly 35 years underground or in prison for his role in building the Communists into the only well-organized opposition to the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar and then Marcelo Caetano. Ultimately, this would lead to a coup in 1974. On top of being the leader of the Portuguese Communist Party, Manuel Tiago was a writer and a plastic artist. He understood the role of art as serving a political goal. Therefore, his writings and art were mostly done in secret to not arise commotion toward his political agenda.
Despite being fictional, these stories certainly reflect authentic struggles of idealist people
risking their lives for their values. The descriptions are genuine, and they transport the reader
into the characters’ minds, allowing us to feel their fears, difficulties, and moments of relief and happiness after their fortunate crossings.
One of the highlights of the book is its description of human characteristics such as coop-
eration, helpfulness, unity, and care. The narratives allow the reader to feel warm-hearted about the number of people who volunteer to help the characters crossing the borders in their endeavors. Furthermore, Manuel Tiago enriches the stories by providing the reader with knowledge of different places, landscapes, oceans, political tourism as Eric Gordon, who has translated this book, points out in the foreword (ix). Manuel Tiago also gives specific and detailed information on one of the characters’ passports in the “When You Least Expect It” story. The passport had two stamps in different colors, with the same date and the same border, mistakenly superimposed as the author mentioned. In the story, an expert also fixed the mistake and explained what the character of the story had to do and how to proceed. Such information shows the reality of human mistakes even in carefully outlined plans.
One of the strengths of the book is the use of language misunderstandings that often happen
when people who speak different languages try to engage in conversations. For example, in the “Brazen Pursuit” story, Alberto, the main character asked a family on the train what region of France they were from after listening to their conversation. They responded that they were Swiss.
The translation made by Eric Gordon stay true to the original work in this sense. It did not
exclude all the human feelings expressed in the stories and is still able to captivate the readers, making them to want to see the narrow escapes of the characters in each story. Additionally, it gives an overview of the nuances of the stories. For example, it briefly describes the foreign cities of the stories, the discomforts of travel, and the unity between the characters and the people they encounter.
The book ends with a chapter on questions to ponder and discuss. This chapter is particularly important to help the readers think of human decisions and actions in the stories and make
sense of them. For example, the decision on risk assessment is mentioned as one of the most
critical issues in underground work (113). The question is: what makes a person take voluntary risks, as Alfredo took when leading Barra out of Portugal in the “Lies to East” story.
The author also calls the readers’ attention to sexism in one of the stories. The handlers of
the crossers were not pleased that they were women. This could be an allusion to Cunhal bringing consciousness to the gender issues he had witnessed. In fact, while in prison, Cunhal obtained his law degree, and his thesis was about abortion. While he saw abortions as tragedy, he argued that for the working-class women, like the ones in his stories, abortions should be legal. Ideologically, this ties in with his beliefs as he argues that the unfortunate economic conditions thrust upon those in a capitalist society make raising another human detrimental to the wellbeing of both mother and child.
The book’s final paragraph ponders morals. The author cites Leon Trotsky, the Marxist revolutionary, theorist, and politician. In the characters’ minds, they were crossing illegally, faking passports, giving false identities for their chance at a better life. Obviously, according to them, society is immoral. However, is it moral to carry out illegal actions? This is certainly a good question for reflection. It seems to be human nature to set our own moral boundaries according to our beliefs. Nevertheless, it is admirable to see people putting their lives at risk for what they believe in.
This book is highly recommended for a variety of audiences. It is recommended for students, authors, and anyone who researches about the Communist party and fascist resistance in Portugal during the 1930s and 40s. The book is also recommended for writers in general because of the author’s lyrical descriptions, the way he depicts human nature regardless of their political views. Border Crossings is a pleasant and enriching book. It shapes information on the crossers’ stories in a dynamic and communicative style. The author has certainly accomplished his objective of showing human feelings, communication, and idealism. It is also worth noting that International Publisher has released other books by Manuel Tiago, such as Five Days Five Nights (already reviewed in Hispania). Such books might also interest the same audiences.
University of Texas
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