Manuel (mahn-WEHL), also called Gérard (zhay-RAHR), a twenty-one-year-old member of the French resistance and formerly a philosophy student in Paris. Manuel is a Spanish Red who fled to France after Francisco Franco’s victory in Spain. He is lucid, courageous, and a firm believer in humankind’s capacity for goodness and human solidarity, despite the horrors he witnesses in German concentration camps. As the novel begins, Manuel is traveling across Germany in a cattle car with other prisoners of war. The narrative then recounts his experience of the journey, his activities in the resistance before his arrest, the brutality of his existence in the camps, and finally his meditations after the war is over on the meaning of both his own sufferings and those of the other victims of the Nazis.
The guy from Semur
The guy from Semur (seh-MEWR), Manuel’s companion and soul mate on the train ride, also a young resistance fighter whose courage and dignity sustain him through most of the journey. Poorly educated and an inexperienced provincial, the guy from Semur nevertheless makes judgments that are remarkably sound. As the journey progresses, Manuel’s respect and admiration for him grows. Despite his courage and resolve, his fragile constitution cannot stand up to the rigors of the “long voyage,” and he dies of apparent heart failure shortly before the train arrives at the camp.
(The entire section is 642 words.)