Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614
The narrative of the struggle of a nameless man to preserve his sanity, this story is told through a letter that he addresses to a literary colleague whom he seems to have known since an early age. His letter tells the bizarre story of his marriage to a seemingly nonexistent wife, their eventful flight from Paris to Nice to escape the Germans, and the strange events that arise from their unfortunate separation in Faugères, so close to their destination.
When the narrator gets off the train to get food in Faugères, the train leaves without him—several minutes ahead of schedule. He leaves messages at the train station for his wife, has the station call other stations, and leaves messages with several station agents, all to no avail. He cannot find his wife in Faugères, Montpelier, or Nice, where he finally stays to look for her.
A week later, after the police try to convince the narrator that they have found his wife, he sees her, by coincidence, standing in line outside a store in Nice. She tells him of her misfortunes with the train, how she joined a group of refugees who lent her money to get to Nice, and how she boarded the wrong train but finally made it to Nice.
Reunited, they start the task of applying for exit visas to the United States. Soon afterward, however, the narrator’s wife tells him that she lied about her disappearance. She admits that she had really been staying with “a brute of a man” whom she met on the train. This throws their relationship into disarray, as the narrator tries to find out every detail of her infidelity, believing that the truth will make it easier for him to bear.
Meanwhile, their quest for visas goes on. One day, the narrator’s wife confesses “with a vehemence that, for a second, almost made a real person of her,” that she had not done it.
Their wait for visas continues until, finally, the narrator comes home carrying two exit visas and two tickets for a boat to New York. When he gets home, however, he finds his wife has gone, along with her suitcase and clothing. The only memento she has left is a rose in a glass.
After several inquiries, the narrator finally finds an old Russian woman who tells him what his wife has told everyone else—that she has met a wealthy aristocrat and that she wants a divorce, but that her husband would not give his consent. On the narrator’s way out, the old lady tells him she will never forgive him for killing his wife’s dog before they left Paris. She is referring to the same dog the narrator’s wife told him she would have missed had they had a dog.
After deciding to go on alone, the narrator goes to Marseilles to catch a ship for New York. Four days later, he goes on deck and runs into an acquaintance from Paris, who says he saw the narrator’s wife a few days before in Marseilles, with her bag, saying that her husband would be along shortly. Taking this in, the narrator decides to write to his former colleague, who is also in New York now. He realizes that somewhere he has made a fatal mistake. This reminds him of Othello’s similar situation, and he realizes that he may end up a victim of his own delusions—or worse—if he is not careful.
At the end, the story loops back to the beginning and explains the title. From the title it did apparently end in Aleppo for the narrator.
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