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Many recent writers have described and documented the technically perfected destruction that must come with a future war--the fast destruction from a flaring rocket or a low-slung tank, the lingering poison of a radioactive cloud. Professor Albert J. Guerard has undercut these catalogues of killing in "Night Journey," '5 future war by writing about the men who must fight it. He has written a frighteningly plausible story of those men and their war.
Guerard's war is fought in a small nameless country on the Continent, between the sullen, deteriorating armies of Western Allies and a "dictatorship." He tells most of his story through the narrative of an intelligence sergeant, sent up from a rear area for propaganda work in the small country, the sergeant's home. The sergeant strains to find some sense in the war's contradictory orders, its faked broadcasts, its leaflets and rumors. Eventually he crosses the enemy lines to the city of his birth and tries to start life ever again as a workman. A rumored germ-warfare attack causes the panicky evacuation of the city, and the sergeant returns to his own army and a deserter's prison camp.
The keynote of Guerard's war is ambiguity. The tired men of "Night Journey" try constantly to dig out the meaning of what is happening to them. The armies do not know where they are fighting, or against whom, or even if there is a war at all. What information they do get is manufactured and tailored behind the lines and they have no way of checking it; Guerard's narrator describes the "contradictory maps--those for the free civilian papers, those for the army papers, those for the writers of the tactical leaflets. Somewhere . . . was the official G-2 map describing actual advances and retreats . . . but even if we had access to it . . . could we be certain that another and more accurate map did not exist somewhere else?"
Guerard's style does not mirror the ambiguity of his story. His writing is simple and incisive, he has carefully drawn the rusting weapons carriers and fading fatigue uniforms of the demoralized armies. Yet the realism of this story is underlaid with symbolism; the symbolism of the sergeant's night journey to his childhood and attempted rebirth. Guerard tends to overwork a few images: the honey knob of a girl's shoulder and the hovering of aircraft above the battlefield, for instance. He relies upon the disturbing device of a narrator who narrates only at intervals, sees things far differently from the sergeant, and points up the ambiguity of the book. But the war remains thoroughly real.
The comparison between "Night Journey" and George Orwell's "1984" jumps out at the reader. Both books attempt to foresee a future world and future war through the extrapolation of present conditions, and stress the manipulation and distortion of the old channels of "truth," the press and the radio and the handbills. But "1984" attempted an all-inclusive description of a world, while "Night Journey" narrows that world into a few people in one small area and is exactly the more effective for that narrowing. The future world of "Night Journey" is a terrible, muddled, complicated thing. It is a logical nightmare in which a woman can watch leaflets proclaiming a free election and freedom drop from a stagnant yellow cloud, and fearfully shout that "they are coming with their elections and their germs." It is a future which jostles rudely against the present.
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