The Long Voyage

by Jorge Semprun

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370

The Long Voyage was written by Jorge Semprun who is himself a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Semprun is among contemporaries, such as, Elie Wiesel, who have recorded the traumatic truths of the Holocaust. The story, as such, is a very realistic account of the life of a survivor. It explores the physical and mental tolls of torture and the will that is needed to survive. In a way, the story provides a toolkit for survival.

However, it also poignantly provides example after example of characters that are well-equipped to survive but do not. Manuel has strength of the mind. He was studying philosophy prior to being arrested. He explored the ideology of freedom thoroughly in his studies and activism. He spends much of his time on the train reminiscing about his prior life and tries to structure his brain with this in mind. For example, despite being confined he tries to free his mind. He does so with a series of flashbacks that take him outside the train to another time. In many ways, his pursuit for freedom and his participation in the resistance are the very characteristics that would have prevented such a genocide in the first place. In order for the Nazi regime to be successful they had to silence the thought of people like Manuel.

Manuel meets and comes to admire the guy from Semur. He is also a young resistant, and he shows great resolve and strength to survive. However, unlike Manuel he does not live past the train ride. Despite having Manuel’s same toolkit for survival the horrific conditions wear away at him. In another example of the absurdity of war, Manuel’s friend Hans’s health also deteriorates. Hans is able to remain miraculously optimistic throughout the war. He finds beauty and love in humanity despite being in a concentration camp. However, while he is the most sunny of all the characters, the war takes a great toll on him. His hair turns white and starts to fall out, and his health worsens. Throughout the story characters are forced to balance their mental condition with their physical wellbeing. Hans was mentally fit and surviving, however, his body struggled in the conditions.

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