The Long Voyage

by Jorge Semprun

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Long Voyage by Jorge Semprún is the story of the main character Manuel (also called Gérard). He is a young, intelligent, and optimistic member of the Spanish Red. After Francisco Franco comes to power in Spain he flees to France. The story begins with him in a boxcar crammed with strangers. The train is headed for the Buchenwald concentration camp. Though Manuel cannot see the people he is surrounded by, he hears their voices. Some are crying out, some talk to him. Throughout the journey he has flashbacks that explain how he came to be on this train. The sensations on the train are putrid and the mental strain of being in a dark, smelly, and terrifying space on the way to sure death are sickening to the reader. However, the reader quickly becomes impressed with Manuel’s ability to remain calm and survive. As part of his mental escape, flashbacks explain his life story. He was studying philosophy when Germany took control of France. He joined the resistance and had a growing understanding of the importance of freedom. His studies taught him the strength of the mind and the necessity to stay strong to one’s values. He was arrested by Gestapo officer, Dr. Haas and was put in a French prison to await being sent to Buchenwald. He remembers Ramaillet, the cellmate he greatly disliked. During the ride Manuel meets the guy from Semur. He is also young and was a member of the resistance. Manuel admires his strength in adversity. However, the train ride ends with the guy from Semur passing. Manuel is brought to think of all the suffering and the Jewish experience in the Holocaust. Manuel enters Buchenwald and becomes further determined to survive. He does make it out alive and is able to look back on the experience of war.

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