Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409
Throughout most of the story the narrator, Manuel, is crammed into a boxcar with a hundred other people on a train headed for the Buchenwald concentration camp. He is a young member of the French Resistance. He fled from Spain after the Franco dictatorship came to power. He is captured in France and made a prisoner of war. Manuel is surrounded by strangers he hears but cannot see. In counting his time on the train he says,
Four days, five nights. But I must have counted wrong, or else some of the days must have turned into nights. I have a surplus of nights, more nights than I can use
This quote highlights his ability to maintain humorous in a very dark situation. It is through Manuel that we learn the effects of trauma on the brain. He begins to see reality in a new light. He is able to free his mind despite being confined. What would have once felt absurd becomes normal. This makes space for new ways of thought and imagination. While many other characters are mentioned, the story always returns to the mind of Manuel. His isolation and ability to survive are highlighted time and time again.
The guy from Semur becomes Manuel’s closest friend in the boxcar. He was also in the French resistance. He shares many of Manuel’s values and becomes someone Manuel looks up to. He does not survive the boxcar ride.
Hans Freiberg is a Jew who was in the Tabou Resistance Network in France.
Michel. He is one of the few survivors who joins Manuel after the war.
Dr. Haas. He is the Gestapo officer who arrested Manuel.
Ramaillet. He is Manuel’s prison cell mate prior to when he is put on the train to Germany. He is disliked for his selfishness. He does not share with any of the other prisoners.
Haroux. He is in the concentration camp with Manuel. He maintains optimism throughout the experience despite his health deteriorating.
Ilse Koch. She is the heartless wife of the concentration camp general. She is described as unattractive and plays a very present role in the torture. She forces prisoners into sexual forays with her and then follows their death by turning their skin into lampshades.
Sigrid. She is a German girl Manuel meets after the war. Manuel is wary of all Germans after the war for pretending to be ignorant of what transpired during the Holocaust.