André Degorce is a child of the French Enlightenment. He studied advanced mathematics. He is aware of the deeper moral insights and meanings of Christian religion. But an unrelenting sequence of brutalisation starting in the Gestapo station in Besancon, then in Buchenwald concentration camp, through the misery of defeat at Dien Bien Phu and incarceration in a Vietcong re-education camp, then the Algerian war, destroys his soul. Ugly base humanity capable of inflicting atrocity is exposed in him.
War is a social organisation that overwhelms enlightenment. There is a brief hope of remission as Degorce tries to treat the Algerian resistance leader Tahar humanely, but he fails as the army machine kills Tahar regardless, and Degorce himself is soon horribly brutalising Robert Clément. This short powerful novel deeply challenges the assumption of human virtue.