For the first time with the heroes of the novel, the author introduces us on the eve of how they retreat as part of the French troops fighting the fascist conquerors in Flanders, are captured and sent to a concentration camp for prisoners of war in Germany.
The main characters of the narrative are a young man named Georges, Captain de Reishak, his distant relative and commander, as well as their colleagues Blum and Iglesia, the former jockey de Reishak, and now his orderly. The plot of the novel does not have a linear composition. It is built on the memories, assumptions of the actors, as well as on their attempt to compare the events occurring before their eyes or captured in their memory, with events of a century and a half ago.
Mother Georges, Sabina, belongs to the lateral
George, being in the army, falls under the command of de Reishak, who receives from Sabina, mother George, a letter with a request to take care of her son. Her letter plunges Georges into a rage. He does not have time to take part in the battles, as his squad is forced to retreat under the onslaught of the enemy. First it happens under the leadership of de Reishak. However, he increasingly loses any desire to fulfill his command duties. According to Georges, all his behavior, his fatalism and serenity in the face of danger testify to his desire to put an end to his existence, since only death seems to him a way out of the situation in which he put himself, having married four years ago on Corinne.
The cavalry detachment de Reishak moves around Flanders, observing on all its roads traces left by the war. The curbs are strewn with corpses of people, animals, things that their masters left on the roads, being unable to drag them along with them.
In one village, where the detachment stops at a halt awaiting orders from the command, Georges and his friends watch a skirmish between two men over a young woman whose husband is at war. The brother of the husband with a gun tries to divert from his daughter-in-law an impudent boyfriend and protect the honor of the family. George, as it seems to him, has time to notice her milky-pale silhouette at the dawn of the hour, and another time – the swaying of the curtain, behind which it? allegedly recently stood, and this is enough for him to remember this girl in the most difficult moments of the full deprivation of life and imagine that he is not alone and warmed by the warmth of her love.
Order from the command of de Reishaku can not wait and he decides to move with his detachment in search of the surviving parts of the French army. On the way to one of the villages they see a funeral procession. All its members accept the detachment with hostility, and only one woman, having compassion on the cavalrymen, shows them a way free from the enemy. Soon, because of the fence begins, scribbling the machine. Reishak, sitting on a horse, manages to bare his saber, but bullets overtake him and he dies. The cavalrymen rush in all directions, and George continues his journey only with Iglesia alone. They make their way to an empty house, they think, and they want to find some civilian clothes for themselves. In the house there is a lonely old man, who only after threats agrees to give it to Georges and Iglesia. Together with them, he gets to the nearest inn,
The next morning Georges and Iglesia, sensing the approach of the enemy, try to hide in the woods. But they can not escape, they are seized and thrown into a cattle car full of prisoners by the French prisoners. Everyone who gets into this car, incredibly slowly moving towards Germany, it seems that he can not breathe his fetid, stale air for more than a few seconds. Without food and drink, Georges and Iglesia are to spend long days here. After a while, Blum comes into the same car, Comrade Georges on the detachment. Georges shares with him the last crust of bread.
All three soon find themselves in a concentration camp, where Joryasu and Iglesia are to spend five years. In the camp, life flows according to its own laws. Prisoners are used on earthworks, paying them miserable camp pennies. For faults and negligence in their work, they are punished with sophistication. Once, taking advantage of the watch’s inattention, Georges tries to escape, but the hunters find him sleeping in the forest and sent back.
Wishing at least something to take time, Georges and Blum are trying to extricate from Iglesia new details of his relationship with Corinne de Reishak. Blum draws parallels between the fate of Captain de Reishak and his ancestor, depicted in a portrait in the house of Georges, for George in detail told him about him. Blum devises more and more of the circumstances of his life and death, trying to understand through another de Rashak another, to understand their generic features.
After his release, Georges lives in his parents’ house and works on the ground. One day he meets with Corinne, thoughts of which supported him in moments of severe trials. According to her behavior, as well as the behavior of Iglesia, it is difficult to say that everything the jockey said about his relationship with Corinne is true.