The Bowels of Liberty | Light at the End of the Tunnel Novel, 1954 | Afterword by Daniel Aarão Reis
The novel Light at the End of the Tunnel is the final installment of the trilogy The Bowels of Liberty, alongside Bitter Times and The Agony of Night. Like the two earlier works, it recounts an episode set during the Novo Estado [New State] (1937-45) and the resistance of the Brazilian Communist Part during that period. With the strikes at the factories of Santo André in 1938, the persecution of the communists intensifies and many party members are detained. The story stretches up to the 1940 trial of Luís Carlos Prestes, the revolutionary leader imprisoned since 1936. The author offers a detailed portrayal of the atrocities committed by the police at the Department of Political and Social Order in São Paulo, a facility commanded by Chief Barros and used to obtain information on clandestine activities. Among the prisoners is the comrade Zé Pedro, who is not only tortured, but forced to watch the abuses committed against his wife, Josefa. The economic powers-that-be are personified by the banker Costa Vale and the American businessman John B. Carlton, in opposition to whom the labourers and rural workers led by Zé Gonçalo fight for land in Mato Grosso where an American company plans to set up a manganese mining operation run on Japanese manpower. In Light at the End of the Tunnel, the outlook for the Communist Party is even grimmer than in the two earlier instalments of the trilogy, as it is set against the height of the Second World War, with the Nazi occupation of France and the procrastination of Vargas, who is inclined to support the Germans, but ends up succumbing to the Americans. But the comrades do not lose their optimism. New militants can glimpse some “light at the end of the tunnel”, as they accompany en masse the trial of Prestes, their hero and greatest stimulus to keep up the fight.
The trilogy The Bowels of Liberty is composed by the novels Bitter Times, The Agony of Night and Light at the End of the Tunnel and constitutes a scathing criticism of the Getúlio Vargas dictatorship, the Estado Novo (1937-45), as seen from the perspective of a member of the Brazilian Communist Party. Jorge Amado had been a militant since 1932, but after Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the writer broke with the PCB. A work of politically engaged literature written by an author who sought to have an impact on his historical moment, the novels in The Bowels of Liberty were also intended as instruments of struggle. In these works the author abandons the characters and settings of Bahia so central to his fiction and shifts his focus to São Paulo, the ground roots of those supporting the regime, those fighting against it and of the dominant economic powers. The writer details the repression against the Communist Party, the censorship, torture and detentions (Jorge Amado himself was imprisoned twice during the period), using fiction to draft a historical chronicle of that turbulent moment in Brazilian politics. The book was written in exile after the Communist Party was struck from the electoral register and Jorge Amado’s own parliamentary mandate was revoked in 1948, whereupon he moved to Paris, followed swiftly by his wife, Zélia Gattai, and their son, João Jorge. However, finding himself also forced out of France, the novelist moved to Prague, in the former Czechoslovakia, where he and his family were lodged at the Writers’ Castle, a one-time aristocratic residence transformed into a communist intellectual headquarters. It was there, in 1952, that the series The Bowels of Liberty was begun. The trilogy was completed in Rio de Janeiro in November 1953 and published in 1954. In the first five editions the trilogy was published as a single work, but from the sixth edition onwards it was issued in the current three-novel format, as originally intended by the author. Always self-critical, Jorge Amado recognized the works’ sectarian character some years later, saying: “There is nothing worse than this sect mentality. That kind of thought has grown stale”. But he could also see the importance of these novels to his growth toward literary maturity. “I discovered the architecture of the novel – something that stood to me later in books like Dona Flor and her Two Husbands, Tereza Batista Home from the Wars, Tieta, Showdown and Tent of Miracles, novels that represent a clear re-flourishing of my work”.
They had taken him straight to the torture room, which lugubrious police humour had dubbed the “spiritist sessions hall”. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, spent in a damp cubicle in the station basement, Carlos, his body aching from all the punching and kicking, tried to focus on two problems: who had ratted them out? And how many people had gone down? He had to keep hitching his trousers up, as they had taken his belt and his tie, in case he tried to hang himself. And as the hand-me-down trousers were too big for him, they were constantly dropping. He sat down on the wet concrete floor of the cell, which they had flushed with buckets of water before locking him in. He had no way of knowing how many comrades the police had arrested. But he was beginning to suspect where the tip-off had come from: Saquila and his group. The journalist was on the run, he’d fled after the failure of the Armando-Integralist coup. The last Carlos heard he had gone abroad, to Uruguay or Argentina, he couldn’t remember.