The Long Voyage

by Jorge Semprun

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 386

The Long Voyage (French: Le Grand Voyage; a.k.a The Cattle Truck) is a 1963 fictional, historical, and biographical novel written by Spanish writer and politician Jorge Semprun. It is the author’s first book, and it tells the story of his own deportation to the camp Buchenwald.

She’s trying to make me believe that all suffering is the same, that all the dead weigh the same. As counterbalance for the weight of my dead friends, for all their ashes, she’s offering the weight of her own suffering. But the dead don’t all weigh the same, of course.

Semprun reflects on his past experiences; he joined the French Resistance, he was captured by the Nazis alongside 120 other men and women, and they were all deported to Buchenwald. They were travelling on a train, crammed in a single cattle car, in the winter of 1943.

I'm in prison because I'm a free man, because I found it necessary to exercise my freedom, because I accepted this necessity.

Semprum doesn’t describe the horrors he endured in the camp. Instead, he philosophically and poetically explains the five-day-long journey towards Buchenwald, allowing his mind to wander and escape reality.

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.

He thinks about freedom and captivity, and the meaning of time. This is why Semprun’s narrative is so unique: it doesn’t follow a strict chronological order, instead, it describes the exact emotional state of these men and women for whom the past, the present, and the future were meaningless. He wonders how humans can be so cruel and writes:

When there will no longer be any real memory of this, only the memory of memories related by those who will never really know (as one knows the acidity of a lemon, the feel of wool, the softness of a shoulder) what all this really was.

Semprun survived the journey and spent more than two years in the camp. He was only 21 when he was released.

For death is personal only for the person itself that is to the extent it is accepted embraced, it can be personal for him, and for him only.

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