***Rights to Vallejo’s previous prize-winning novel Ouest sold in China (Horizon Media), Germany (Aufbau), Italy (Sellerio), Romania (Historia), South Korea (Woongjing), Spain (Salamandra), and Taiwan (New Sprout).***
In August 1988, a fire erupted in the old Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon. The author was there at the time, staying in a hotel, and he witnessed firsthand much of the disaster. His experience inspired this novel.
From out of the burning buildings of the Chiado, people pour onto the debris-filled streets. Amidst the screams and crashing of falling walls, city officials holler at the crowds to get onto buses that will take them to safety. The narrator, a French tourist, is already aboard a bus when he notices an old man emerge from the smoke only to turn right around and head back into his apartment building. A surge of curiosity and a feeling of destiny envelop “le Francês,” as he becomes known, and he fights his way off the bus and down the street in the old man’s pursuit. Soon it’s clear that more than these two have refused to leave: joining the old man and le Francês are Carneiro, an old museum security guard; Eduardo, a photographer and war veteran; and Augustina, a woman in search of her daughter. Like animals searching for high ground in a flood, they all end up together in one small uncharred space, to wait out the flames.
When a mysterious fifth person turns up, the equilibrium is upset. In an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, and suffering from thirst and hunger, all members of this recalcitrant lot are forced to confess their reasons for having stayed behind, painfully revealing their true natures to themselves and the group.