Today’s topic is Las cuatro fugas de Manuel, by Jesus Diaz.
Literal translation of the title is “The four flees of Manuel”, which is a representative title for a young cubanese student living in Ukraine, caught in the demolishing of the Soviet Union, and desperately trying to escape his departure in his natal country.
Manuel is a promising student in physics, studying in Kharkov, Ukraine, at that moment under the Soviet Union. He has little knowledge about human behavior, but he is very good in science. He has a good experiment running and working on his thesis, that shows great potential. He also has a dream relationship with a girl, under the pink view of an adolescent, where he does not expect too much, and puts even less thought in it. He begins from a dreamer, worry-free adolescent. All this will soon fall apart, as the Soviet Union is disbanded, and he has to return to his natal country, Cuba.
He knows he cannot go back, as it would mean his destruction as a scientist, and return to a miserable life full of debts that his relatives are living. He has no means of continuing his studies and become what he wants back in his country.
Manuel’s run begins here, where he attempts to go to Germany, then Poland and Switzerland. During his kafkian initiation journey, he faces so many perils that a full grown-up should be capable to face, but he is too young, too naive to even think about people trying to do him harm, or not wanting to help him. He finds refuge in Ayinray, a chillian student who becomes his lover and protector. She tries to awake him to the real world, but she is too a dreamer, thinking that she can keep him for herself. Life’s demands are too strong for Manuel, he doesn’t have identity card, passport, liberty to work or follow his dreams. Ayinray soon realizes she cannot keep him for long, and decides to let him go.
In his life, the girl represents a hook point, where his falling apart life hangs on. She is the mean to keeping him sane, and with a desire to continue the struggle.
All his attempts to flee are a representation of growing up: he entrusts another person with the belief that they could both attempt to cross the border to Poland by foot in the snowy winter of Siberia. He entrusts the local authorities in Germany to offer him asylum and gives them his passport. The Europe at this time is too hurt itself to care for a poor cubanese student. Nobody wants to protect him, and he is too weak to protect himself.
Manuel grows from a simple adolescent to an adult, to a person who can look after himself, and manages to find a place to temporarily live. His dreams continue about his ideal platonic love, and to be able to help one day his poor mother living in Cuba, or his dream as a scientist. He hardly acknowledges that the one needing most of help is himself.
Manuel’s story is one of the helpless individual against the system, with the individual being unable to break through or reach a state of happiness. That’s why Kafka’s universe keeps coming into my mind. Manuel is too innocent for this world, and this will cost him terribly. However, everything that is not killing him, it makes him stronger. Manuel grows and starts to discover human relationships, true friendship and the requirements one needs to have to pass through life.
Both Europe and Manuel are faced with destruction, just to emerge after some time with a lesson learned, a new future, and washing away all the sorrows.