(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The opening of The Long Voyage compels total attention, as the narrator begins speaking about a nightmare journey in progress. From his first words, “There is the cramming of the bodies into the boxcar, the throbbing pain in the right knee. The days, the nights. I force myself and try to count the days, to count the nights,” a mood of extraordinary psychological intensity is set. The narrator—his name, background, personality, and occupation a mystery—reports that he is confined among 120 men “stacked in on top of one another” in a freight car moving across occupied France in 1943. It is apparent from his description and the terse tone of his speech that the conditions of physical stress and psychological horror which he is experiencing will require an exceptional effort of mind and body for survival. At first, the details that he presents force the reader to concentrate on the purely physical demands of the situation; then, as the narrator begins to demonstrate the ways in which he uses the powers of his mind and imagination to combat these pressures, it becomes apparent that even the strongest body will not have sufficient strength without a complementary mental fitness. In a further widening of scope, the narrator employs associative images from the unfolding present, the long inland voyage of the title, to provide connections to the past and projections into the future beyond the completion of the journey.

During the five days that the German prison train carrying members of the Maquis (the legendary French underground) moves toward its destination, the narrator, a so-called Spanish Red who has fled from the Basque country into exile in France, describes his life in the Resistance, his capture and transportation to the camp, some fragments about his existence in the camp, his reflections upon his liberation at the end of the war, and his reasons for waiting sixteen years to write about his experiences. The surging core of the narrative is the journey, so intense and desperate, so completely absorbing, that sporadic relief is necessary for the reader as well as for the narrator. Consequently, like a motif in a musical composition that recurs as a point of departure and return, the dreadful trip continues, interrupted strategically by related episodes that progressively reveal more about the narrator and his life.

Driven from his home in Barcelona when he was thirteen years old by Francisco Franco’s Fascist forces, the narrator, Manuel (who is known to his colleagues by his nom de guerre, Gérard), was studying philosophy in France when that country was conquered by the Germans. Choosing to become a member of the Resistance, he was active in partisan operations until betrayal led to his capture. He begins the journey to the concentration camp in Weimar with the same attitude with which he approaches every new situation. He has consciously trained himself, in accordance with his vocation as a scholar-philosopher, to attune very closely the responses of his mind to any occurrence. He has already prepared a basic series of...

(The entire section is 1256 words.)