A young Frenchman, medical student Ferdinand Bardamu, is enlisted under the influence of propaganda as a volunteer in the army. For him, life begins, full of hardship, horror and exhausting transitions in Flanders, on the territory of which the French troops take part in the First World War. Once Bardam sent to the intelligence service. By this time he had already managed to reach such a degree of nervous and physical exhaustion that he only dreams of one thing: to surrender. During the outing, he meets with another French soldier, Leon Robinson, whose desires coincide with the wishes of Bardam. However, they can not surrender, and they diverge each in their own way.
Soon, Bardam gets injured, and he is sent to Paris for treatment. There he meets an American Lola dressed in uniforms
Bardam does not have any cash, and he goes to a jeweler, who worked in the back room before the war, to ask for money. He does it together with his former friend Vuarez, who also once worked for this jeweler. From it, young people get pennies, which they would not have enough for one day. Then, at the suggestion of Vuarez, both go to the mother of the deceased brother-in-arms Vuarez, who is a wealthy woman and from time to time lends Vuarez money. In the courtyard of her house young people meet all the same Leon Robinson. Robinson tells them that the woman they came to killed suicide in the morning. He himself is upset by this fact no less than Bardam, because he is her godchild and also wanted to ask for some money.
A few months later, Bardam, who was released from military service, sits on a steamer and sails to the shores of Africa, where he hopes to get back on his feet in one of the French colonies. This crossing almost costs him his life. Passengers for unknown reasons turn Bardamu into an outcast on the ship and three days before the end of the voyage they intend to throw the young man overboard. Only a miracle and eloquence to Bardam help him stay alive.
During the stop at the Bambol-Bragamans colony, Ferdinand Bardamu, at night, taking advantage of the fact that his pursuers needed a breather, disappears from the ship. He settles in the company “Sridhodan of the Lesser Congo”. He is responsible for the life in the forest, in ten days’ journey from Fort-Gono, the town where the company office, and exchange of rubber produced blacks, rags and trinkets, which the company has provided its predecessor and which so greedy savages. Having reached his destination, Bardamu meets his predecessor, who again turns out to be Leon Robinson. Robinson takes with him all the most valuable, most of the money and leaves in an unknown direction, not intending to return to Fort-Gono and give a report to his superiors in his economic activities. Bardam, left at the broken trough, brought to near insanity by greedy insects and loud nocturnal howls of a beast living in the woods around his hut, decides to follow Robinson and move in the same direction as his acquaintance disappeared. The bardam is undermined by malaria, and the Negro travelers are forced to deliver it to the nearest settlement, which turns out to be the capital of a Spanish colony, on stretchers. There he gets to one priest who sells Bardam to the captain of the galley “Infanta Sosalia” a rower. The ship sails to America. In the United States, Bardam runs away from the galleys and tries to find a place in this country. At first he works as a flea-checker in a quarantine hospital, then goes without work and without a penny in his pocket, then he turns to his former mistress, Lola, for help. She gives him a hundred dollars and gets out of the door. Bardamu’s mouth
He goes to the plant to Ford, but soon throws this job, having met in a brothel with Molly, an affectionate and devoted girl who helps him financially and wants to marry him someday. The ways of the Lord are inscrutable – it’s no wonder that Ferdinand also happens to meet with Leon Robinson, who arrived in the country in the same way as Bardam, but slightly ahead of the latter. Robinson works as a cleaner.
Having stayed in America for about two years, Bardamju leaves back to France and resumes medical studies, passes exams, while continuing to earn extra money. After five or six years of academic suffering, Ferdinand still receives a diploma and the right to conduct medical activities. He opens his doctor’s office on the outskirts of Paris, in Garenne-Drancy. He has no claims, no ambitions, but only a desire to breathe a little more freely. The public in Garenne-Dranja (the name of the district speaks for itself) belongs to the lower strata of society, the declassed elements. Here people never live in prosperity and do not try to hide the rudeness and unbridled nature of their mores. Bardam, as the most unpretentious and conscientious doctor in the neighborhood, often does not receive a single sous for his services and gives advice for free, not wanting to rob poor people. There are, however, among them frankly criminal personalities, such as, for example, the husband and wife of Prokiss, who first want to bury the elderly mother of Prokiss in the hospital for the mentally ill old people, and when she gives a decisive rebuff to their plans, they plan to kill her. This function, which no longer surprises the reader, entrusted Prokiss with the unknown origin of Robinson for a fee of ten thousand francs.
The attempt to send the old woman to the next world ends dramatically for Robinson himself: the shot from the gun during the installation of the trap for the mother Prokiss gets into the eyes of Robinson himself, which makes him blind for a few months. Old woman and Robinson wife Prokiss from sin far away, so that nothing the neighbors have identified, sent to Toulouse, where the old woman opens her own business: she shows tourists a church crypt with half-decayed mummies exposed in it and has a good income. Robinson also leads an acquaintance with Madlon, a twenty-year-old black-eyed girl, who soon, despite his blindness, plans to become his wife. She reads newspapers to him, walks with him, feeds him and takes care of him.
Bardam comes to Toulouse to visit his friend. His affairs are excellent, he feels better already, his vision gradually begins to return, he receives a few percent of the profit from the crypt. On the day of Bardam’s departure to Paris with the old woman Prokiss, a misfortune happens: stumbling on the stairs leading to the crypt, she falls down and dies of the bruise. Ferdinan suspects that without the participation of Robinson there was not, and, not wanting to get involved in this matter, hurries to return to Paris. In Paris, Bardam, in the patronage of one of his colleagues, Sukhodrokova, is assigned to the position of assistant chief physician in a psychiatric hospital. The head doctor by the surname Baritone has a little daughter who is distinguished by a certain strangeness of character. Father wants her to start learning English, and she is asked to teach her to Bardam. With the English the girl does not get along, but her father, who is present at all lessons, gets penetrated by passionate love for the language, literature and history of England, which radically changes his view of the world and his life aspirations. He sends his daughter to a distant relative, and he himself leaves for England indefinitely, then to the Scandinavian countries, leaving Bardamu as his deputy. Soon, at the gates of the hospital appears Robinson, who this time ran away from his bride and her mother. Madlon heavily dragged Robinson to the crown, threatening if he did not marry her, inform the police that the death of the old woman Prokiss came not without the participation of Robinson. When he announced to Bardam, he begged his friend to shelter him in his hospital as a madman. Madlon immediately after his fiance comes to Paris, gets a job and spends all his free time at the gate of the hospital park in the hope of seeing Leon. Bardam, wishing to protect Robinson from meeting with Madlon, rudely talks to her and even slaps him. Pitying his incontinence, he invites Robinson and Madlon, as well as the masseuse of Sophia, her close friend, for the sake of reconciliation for a walk. Reconciliation,
However, it does not work out, and on the way back to the hospital in Madlon’s taxi, which can not get Robinson’s consent to return to Toulouse and marry her, shoots him point-blank from the gun, and then opens the taxi door and climbs out of it and, slipping from a steep slope straight through the mud, disappears in the darkness of the field. From the received wounds in a stomach Robinson dies.