As you get deeper into the book the differences between this and other works starts to become more apparent. The relationship between the main character and his environment is one thing that is different because he drifts from the battlefields to various hospitals and then out to Africa without ever seeming to change his pessimistic outlook. The war can end and Africa beckon but it seems to have a low impact on him personally.
Bullet points between 94 – 191
* Around page 100 the main character leaves Paris and heads for the French colonies.
* On the boat Ferdinand is discovered to be the only fee paying passenger and suspected of being a spy and is almost thrown overboard until he sacrifices his self respect to suck up to the soldiers attacking him
* Once in Africa he is given the job of going into the jungle to replace a man who is being recalled for failing to send the colonial trading company his accounts
* Before leaving the port to head up the river Ferdinand vows to get ill confiding that he knows how to pick up something that will be bad enough to get him sent home
* The man he is replacing is Robinson who he met in the war, again in Paris and now in the jungle. Only for a long time he can’t remember him then when he does Robinson disappears
* Four weeks later after being ill he burns down the shack and heads into the bush and ends up the Spanish run port of Santa Tapeta
* While ill he ends up being bought by a captain of a galley and ends up sailing across the Atlantic to New York
* He escapes from the boat and gets caught and ends up counting fleas at the immigrant landing station at Ellis Island. Then when asked to take some statistics across to New York he bolts for freedom
Still not an easy read and the fact that even as a pessimist he can’t seem to enjoy some of his good luck starts to grate after a while.
Throughout the African experience the natives are treated terribly by the French and there is a moment when he reaches a staging post and comes across Lieutenant Grappa, who is responsible for looking after a large patch of jungle and comes to the conclusion it all looks the same, that you understand why the French suffered in Vietnam.
Bearing that in mind I will post a review of The Last Valley by Martin Windrow tomorrow, which is about the demise of the French in Vietnam.