Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gerard Sorel

Gerard Sorel, the narrator, also known as Sanchez, Camille Salagnac, Rafael Artigas, Rafael Bustamante, Larrea, Ramon Barreto, and other pseudonyms. He is a Spaniard and Communist Party member who spent time in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He narrates his story and never reveals his real name. From a bourgeois background, yet well known and trusted in the Party underground, Gerard survives the prison camp because of the Party’s place in its organization. He is an intellectual, or observer, by temperament. He constantly compares individuals, national groups, and times in history. His prison camp experiences, especially the constant awareness of others’ deaths, make him question the reality of his experiences and even of his existence. This sense of unreality is further fostered by his many identity changes and the changes, over the years, in the Communist Party line.

Fernand Barizon

Fernand Barizon, a Communist Party member from France who survives Buchenwald with Gerard and discusses it with him fifteen years later. The meaning of his remark “What a beautiful Sunday!” is never articulated, though Gerard’s memory of the statement resonates throughout the novel. Barizon is not an intellectual. He remembers his true and very physical love affair with a French garment union member, Juliette, and he has a zest for food and a desire for comfort. He is an extremely loyal friend. He never fully...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

What a Beautiful Sunday! focuses on Jorge Semprun’s personal reminiscences about his incarceration in Buchenwald, but also deals with postwar experiences in France and, to a lesser extent, in Spain. The narrator is a thinly veiled version of Semprun. Those characters who, like the narrator, not only try to survive in Buchenwald but also improve the existences of other inmates are seen in retrospect as complicated individuals, each displaying his own blend of courage and cowardice, openness and deceit, subjection to authority and defiance of that authority.

The narrator is often in awe at the everyday deportment of Henk Spoenay, his highly organized, clever, and at times brave Dutch friend, of the wit and intelligence of Willi Seifert, the wily German Communist who understands the workings of the guards’ minds, and of the outspoken nature of Fernand Barizon, fellow Spaniard whose good humor and nonchalant attitude help others overcome fear.

All of the main characters are members of the Communist Party or are sympathizers with its aims and, as such, provide readers with a variety of opinions about the directions the Party takes. Some, like the narrator, will give up their belief; others, like Barizon, will cling to it despite all evidence suggesting that it has failed to live up to its ideals.

Yet all the characters share a certain cardboard cut-out appearance. One learns little about them and next to nothing...

(The entire section is 465 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Booklist. Review. LXXIX (October 1, 1982), p. 190.

Boyers, Robert. “The Voyage of Jorge Semprun,” in Atrocity and Amnesia: The Political Novel Since 1945, 1985.

Kirkus Reviews. Review. L (August 1, 1982), p. 898.

Library Journal. Review. CVII (September 15, 1982), p. 1771.

Publishers Weekly. Review. CCXXII (September 17, 1982), p. 104.