Sartre’s Roads to Freedom trilogy took a dynamic shift in tone following on from the Age of Reason. Inspired by the likes of Virginia Woolf, the French philosopher decided to try his hand at simultaneous prose. The result is the Reprieve, which is a chilling psychological examination of a nation prior to outright warfare.
In September 1938, Europe was gripped by the threat of potential war – the Munich conference, led by England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and France’s Édouard Daladier, was an attempt to appease Germany’s Adolf Hitler and stop this. The settlement was aimed at allowing Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia, although the nation’s representatives weren’t invited to attend the meetings, much to its annoyance (Czechoslovakia eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993).
The conference was another conniving attempt to control Adolf Hitler – the result was called the Munich Agreement and the hope at the time was it would delay, if not stop entirely, another war. As we all know, this was a false dawn – nothing was going to stop Hitler from delivering on his plans, with his invasion of Poland in 1939 triggering off global warfare.
In the autumn of 1938, though, there was great hope between Britain and France the Munich conference would lead to peace. Sartre’s novel picks up in the week leading up to the occasion, with many men conscripted into the army in the case the debate collapsed into war. The result was a nation left to dwell on its situation, which is where the author brings in a multitude of characters (rather than any leading individual, although Mathieu Delarue from Age of Reason features heavily) and relies on simultaneity to leap back and forth between their thoughts with quick fire paragraphs.
Ultimately, the Munich Agreement did bring momentary peace, but it was a reprieve: the postponement of punishment. In reality, thanks to the benefit of hindsight and hundreds of history books, we know France faced chaos ahead – invasion, defeat, but eventual liberation. For a man of Sartre’s intellect, it was the ideal opportunity to hone his vision of what personal freedom is.
Exploring Simultaneous Experiences in The Reprieve
This is possibly the most challenging book review I’ll attempt as it’s such an unusual narrative device. Unusual doesn’t do it justice – for the reader, to begin with, it’s awkward and disorientating. This has made the timing of this review annoying as I started a rather challenging new job in January 2017, which has led to a massive delay between the previous review and this one. I do not apologise.
Anyway, back to the book. Some would argue it doesn’t work as a writing style – you could suggest Sartre was being gimmicky, pretentious, or difficult. Some readers would simply abandon this one unhappily, but to do so would be to miss out on a pretty profound piece of writing.
Regardless, it’s difficult to genuinely reflect the scale of everything happening and what Sartre intended with the novel due to the simultaneity. There’s just no way I can reflect everything bouncing around in the narrative. As such, the only way to truly experience it is to get the thing and read it… but this review will suffice if you don’t have the spare time.
Friday, 23rd September – 1938
Events kick off and rapidly build in the collage of emotions racing through the often distraught or dismayed individuals in the story, which includes the likes of Mathieu, Daniel, Ivich, and Boris from the Age of Reason. There are many new characters, too, although the reader won’t get to know them too well as the prose darts about, but it adds to the sense of collective consideration on the events unfolding.
We soon learn Daniel has acted out his Machiavellian antics from Age of Reason and married Marcelle (Mathieu’s former girlfriend). Delarue, in the meantime, has a new girlfriend and has appeared to matured considerably. In the first book, the bumbling philosophy lecturer was lost in the realms of fading youth, messing around with student Ivich and attempting, dismally and humiliatingly, to fund an abortion for Marcelle.
Now seemingly more self-assured and forthright, he’s a more endearing character this time around now his natural intelligence is in sharper focus. Whereas, for instance, Daniel is just as much a pain in the arse as ever.
In this chapter, events stridently move away from the domestic bickering and relationship issues which played out the first time around. Immediately, we’re introduced to a large cast of characters (over a dozen) whom, uniformly, wrestle with the concept of heading into war – this, of course, would have been a quite dreadful possibility at the time. It’s easy for us all to look back now, with the benefit of hindsight, whilst we bicker about modern issues, but in the ’30s the situation was horrific.
As a note – briefly appearing in this chapter, and throughout the novel, are genuine politicians – Chamberlian, Daladier, and Hitler. Sartre even invents possible conversations they had in the build up to the agreement.
Of course, as this is all leaping around from one to another, the sense all is not quite in order, the general unease, and the building historical importance well up in the characters. Everyone is on edge as the delayed meetings between Hitler and Chamberlain ramp up the tension.
Saturday, 24th September
After the paranoia of the first chapter (which is some 70+ pages long – worth highlighting to display how much Sartre subverts conventions with his narrative structure), the second brings about resentment – war seems inevitable. Soon, Delarue is falsely informed, based on a newspaper report, war is on the cards. He ponders this:
It’s war. Something that now held him by one sole thread, dropped away from him, and was left behind. It was his life: and it was dead. Dead … Mathieu thought: ‘I have had a peaceful future.’ Indeed he had: he had loved and hated and suffered, and the future was here and everywhere, overhead and all around him, like an ocean, and every burst of anger, every disaster, every laugh, drew sustenance from that invisible and insistent future.
In a reflective mood, he goes on some more:
The post-war [WWI] epoch was a beginning. The beginning of peace. It passed unhurried, as a morning passes. Jazz was a beginning, and the cinema, which I so much enjoy, was also a beginning. Surrealism, too; and Communism. I hesitated, I chose with care … Between the two Wars. Only twenty years! Yesterday it had seemed a shorter and a longer period: and indeed no one would have thought to estimate it, since it had not ended. Now it has ended. A spurious future. All the experiences of the last twenty years have been spurious. We were energetic and serious, we tried to understand, and here is the result: those lovely days led to a dark and secret future, they deceived us; today’s war, the new Great War, stole them surreptitiously away.
It’s at this point, with the expectation of war, many of the male characters find in the morning they’re likely to be conscripted into the army. This was a knee-jerk reaction from the French government which caused a lot of panic and stress, ultimately for no reason (until a year later, of course).
To lighten the tone, as always, there is the ever charming 19 year old Boris. He’s sent Delarue a letter, which reads as follows (addressed to himself, Boris Serguine, in an attempt to get Delarue to write back apologetically):
My dear Boris. I am well/not well (cross out inapplicable alternatives). The reason for my silence is: pardonable or unpardonable; annoyance; illwill; sudden conversion; lunacy; illness; laziness; mere perversity. I will write you a long letter in … days. Please accept my profound excuses and the expression of my repentant regard. Signature:
Elsewhere in this simultaneous tale, wealthy Sarah and her husband Gomez clash over the arrival of warfare. When Sarah asks him if he thinks there will be a war, he says:
‘I hope so. I hope Hitler will finally force the French to fight.’
Sarah’s response to this is condemning:
‘Do you know what I’ve realised recently? That men are evil.’ Gomez shrugged his shoulders. ‘They are neither good nor evil. Everyone pursues his own interest.’ – ‘No,’ Said Sarah. ‘They are evil.’ She kept her eyes on little Pablo [their son], as though predicting his destiny. ‘Evil; and intent on injuring themselves.’ – ‘I’m not evil.’ Said Gomez. ‘You are,’ said Sarah without looking at him. ‘You are evil, my poor Gomez, very evil. And you have no excuses: others are unhappy, but you are evil, and happy.’
This referring to their wealthy lifestyle; Sarah, obviously reflecting despondently on the carnage awaiting everyone. Here hubris highlights the psychological malaise which was sweeping in; kind of like certain current world events unfolding. It’s an unpleasant feeling in the gut and you can only take a step back and await the results.
The generation alive during the ’30s and ’40s had it tough – far worse than we have now. For my 32 year old self, the possibility of having to pick up a gun and go charging into battle is highly unlikely. Anyway, I have tinnitus and probably wouldn’t be allowed to fight etc. Curiously, despite his irritating indecision, and bursts of cowardice, displayed in the Age of Reason, Delarue approaches the probability he’ll be called into action with stoic indifference.
‘Look here,’ said Jacques [Mathieu’s brother]. ‘You’re not asking me to believe you are resigned to going off, like a sheep to the slaughter-house?’ – ‘Well,’ said Mathieu, ‘I am rather sheeplike, don’t you think? I’m going because I can’t do anything else. That being so, the question whether this war is or is not a just war is, for me, quite secondary.’
In the Age of Reason, Jacques had eagerly taken an opportunity to brutality savage his brother for his questionable and hypocritical actions with Marcelle – it all wasn’t in keeping with the ideologies of a socialist. A year on and it appears his brother is taken aback by this turn of events.
‘Mathieu, you amaze me. I’m absolutely staggered. I don’t recognise you. What happened? I had a turbulent, cynical, sarcastic brother, who would never allow himself to be fooled, who would not lift his little finger without trying to understand why he was lifting his little finger rather than his forefinger, and the little finger of his right hand rather than his left. Then comes the war, he is sent into the front line, and my rebel, my plate-smasher, goes off politely, without any hesitation, merely saying: I’m going because I have no option.’
Mathieu tries to shake him off, but Jacques (who comes across as a bit of an overeducated, obnoxious git) pursues him with some fancy old words.
‘The issue is quite clear: we are confronted by a man – I mean Beneš [the President of Czechoslovakia] – who is formally pledged to establish Czechoslovakia as a federation on the Swiss model. He is pledged,’ he repeated with emphasis. ‘I read it in the Report of the proceedings at the Peace Conference, so you see I can quote my sources. And that promise was equivalent to giving the Sudeten Germans a genuine ethnographic autonomy. Good. Whereupon said person ignored his commitments, and places these same Germans under Czech administration, law, and police. The Germans don’t like it: and they claim their strict rights. Moreover I know these Czech officials, I have been in Czechoslovakia, I know what petty tyrants they can be. Well then – the proposal is that France, the land, so they say, of liberty, should shed her blood, in order that Czech officials should continue to torment the German population, and that is why you, professor of philosophy at the Lycee Pasteur, are going to spend the last years of your youth ten feet underground, between Biche and Wissembourg. And so you must understand that when you come and tell me that you are leaving in a spirit of resignation, and that you don’t care a damn whether this war is just or unjust, I do get a bit hot under the collar.’
Elsewhere, the driving force of the Repireve remains with the Munich Agreement in action. Little is mentioned about what goes on behind the scenes politically as the story plays out from the perspective of eager citizens waiting to hear of their fate.
With the men called up by the French government, there begins the separation between men and women from marriages, relationships, and more. Mobilisation has disparate results for the characters; Mathieu is stoic, but others start drinking heavily, panic, or simply don’t realise what’s going on (one character arrives at work and is sent packing, rather bewildered, to the front).
Meanwhile, the newlyweds Daniel and Marcelle contemplate the apparent arrival of war. Marcelle considers it to be “dreadful”, but the ever glib Daniel states:
‘Man was born to trouble. Suppose war does come? We should put up with it somehow.’
Sunday, 25th September
A day of shame, a day of rest, a day of fear, the day of God, the sun rose upon a Sunday.
Boris returns in this chapter, adding a ray of youthful vigour to proceedings. Unfortunately, Sartre didn’t view him as interesting enough to continue much further with the Lola/Boris affair and by Iron in the Soul he and the troublesome Ivich are pretty much removed from events. It is revealed, however, Boris and Lola now share a more convivial relationship, with Boris increasingly affectionate towards her.
Behind the scenes of everyday life there lurk tumultuous times; Sartre reintroduces conversation between the political powers of the day, with Neville Chamberlain (later criticised for his poor handling of the Nazi threat) overseeing the proceedings for Britain. It’s easy to look back with hindsight now, of course, as at the time it was believed Adolf Hitler could still be contained – bundled off to one side with some form of appeasement. As easy as that.
The problem was Hitler had much bigger plans – still seething from the outcome of the First World War, the Austrian born dictator was on a far right rampage to take control of Europe and then, he hoped, the world.
It may seem peculiar why such a socially awkward, openly hateful, once unpopular man rose to staggering success in Germany, but he did have a charm about him – his talent as a rousing public speaker is well documented.
Then, of course, there’s how he cleverly fashioned his demagogue to appeal enormously to a poverty stricken nation struggling under the unbelievably stifling policies of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler was in the right place at the right time and, with his relentless, belligerent persistence, he was able to muscle his way into ever powerful positions.
Cut back to Delarue and he’s busy feeling like “someone from another world”. He goes on to add he feels like he’s a “phantom”. Should he throw his life away and head to war?
‘I might refuse and damn the consequences, or slip into Switzerland. Why don’t I? Well, I just can’t. And the war in Spain wasn’t my business either. Nor the Communist Party. But what is my business?’, he asked himself, almost in desperation.
He goes on to conclude “my skin isn’t even worth saving”, but takes solace in knowing his stoic characteristics are ideally suited for the fighting ahead. He even finds time to meet with his old acquaintance Gomez (Sarah’s husband) in a bar for a lazy evening discussing women and Delarue’s former relationship with Marcelle, now a distant memory.
Elsewhere in France, Boris is also enjoying a quiet moment in the Bar Basque, where he’s simply another Frenchman in a maudlin mood about the impending conference.
Boris stopped drinking, he felt startled … He did not like to think of the Bar Basque closed behind their backs. The Casino would close too, and all the hotels in Bairritz would be deserted. One had just the same feeling about death: if one was certain that other men would still be drinking white rum, bathing in the sea, and listening to jazz bands, one could feel a little comforted: but if everyone had to die at the same time, and humanity closed shop, the prospect would certainly be bleak.
An odd, if charming, character, he goes on to reflect about his probable death in 1942 and the number of meals he must have eaten in his life, such as 803 omelettes. He also reflects:
He had always known he would die young. He had often told himself that he would die of consumption, or be murdered by Lola. But in his inmost self he had never doubted that he would be killed in war. He worked, he prepared for his school certificate or his degree, but it was more or less by way of passing the time, just as girls go to lectures at the Sorbonne, while waiting to get married.
Returning to Gomez and Delarue, the latter asks:
‘And supposing we too lost the war?’ – ‘Then Europe would go Fascist,’ said Gomez lightly. ‘It’s not a bad preparation for Communism’ – ‘What will become of you, Gomez’ – ‘I imagine their cops will track me down in some boarding house, or I shall go and starve in America. What does it matter? I shall have lived.’ Mathieu looked at Gomez with curiosity: ‘And you regret nothing?’ he asked. ‘Nothing at all.’
Monday, 26th September
Beginning with Édouard Daladier (I write this as France steers itself through another tense period in its history – a big election is happening!) in a pensive mood as the conference nears, Sartre takes us once again hopping and skipping across the myriad thoughts his characters are experiencing.
The communist Brunet returns to the story at this stage (he, surprisingly, plays a major part in the closing section of Iron in the Soul), before the awkward Ivich Serguine is brought back into our lives. It’s during the Reprieve we find out the reason for her bizarre psychological state, with the (not overt) suggestion she’s being abused by her father. It is dubious, however, and could just be me misinterpreting events, as it is only a minute segment in the entire novel.
It does, however, epitomise the whole sorry state of affairs rather succinctly – a sordid moment in history when Hitler’s belligerence caused a failed attempt to quell his desires. The man himself provides a speech during this chapter, with several characters listening on the radio as he rants about personal sacrifices and the German nation’s eventual happiness:
‘This is the territorial claim that I have to formulate in Europe, but it is a claim from which I shall not deviate, and which I shall realise, if God wills.’
These political intermissions in the story, as I’ve mentioned earlier, are only ever temporary. You’ll have to read a history book to find out that side in detail as this is, as always with Sartre, a look at the human psyche in a time of extremes.
Not that Delarue seems overly concerned. Still considering his duties with stoic reserve, he takes on Gomez’s provocative stance on war:
Mathieu envied Gomez and then said to himself: Gomez doesn’t see more of it than I do, he is struggling against what he cannot see – and he ceased to envy him. What does he see? Walls, a telephone on his desk, his orderly officer’s face. He makes war, he does not see it. And indeed, in making war, we all join in making it: I raise my hand, I draw at my cigar, and I make war: Sarah curses men’s folly, she clasps Pablo [her son] in her arms: she is making war. Odette is making war when she wraps her ham sandwiches in a piece of paper. The war takes and embraces everything, war preserves every thought and every gesture, and no one can see it, not even Hitler. No one.
Thinking some more with that big old brain of his, Sartre, seemingly, goes on to state:
A vast entity, a planet, in a space of a hundred million dimensions: three-dimensional beings could not so much as imagine it. And yet each dimension was an autonomous consciousness. Try to look directly at that planet, it would disintegrate into tiny fragments, and nothing but consciousnesses would be left. A hundred million free consciousnesses, each aware of walls, the glowing stump of a cigar, familiar faces, and each constructing its destiny on its own responsibility. And yet, each of those consciousnesses, by imperceptible contacts and insensible changes, realises its existence as a cell in a gigantic and invisble coral. War: everyone is free, and yet the stakes are set. It is there, it is everywhere, it is the totality of all my thoughts, of all Hitler’s words, of all Gomez’s act: but no one is there to make that total. It exists solely for God. But God does not exist. And yet the war exists.
On another spectrum, Sarah is fraught with dismay. Having argued with her husband about the matter and endured a separate, borderline humiliating incident with an obstinate man demanding money off of her, she is losing her nerve. Whilst this occurs, Daladier steps forward to make a timely radio statement:
‘I made Monsieur Beneš an offer which is nothing more than the realisation of the assurances he has himself already made. The decision is now in his hands: peace or war. Either he will accept these proposals, and now give the Germans their freedom; or we shall go and take it ourselves.’
This disturbing statement convinces many characters the inevitable has happened and war is on the way. Boris is left to ruminate “one good thing about war was that it was solely a male concern. For three years – five years, he would see only men.” He also incorrectly observes:
‘A fellow who would have the right to complain,’ he thought, ‘is Mathieu: now there is a man definitely born for peace: he has always been convinced that he would die of old age, and had already acquired his little habits: at his age a man does not change. Whereas, as far as I’m concerned, it’s my war. The war for me, and I shall make the war: we are inseperable: I can’t even imagine what I should be like if I hadn’t broken out.’ He thought of his life, and it no longer seemed to him too short. Lives are neither short nor long. It was a life, that’s all: war at the end of it. He felt as though he had been suddenly invested with a new dignity, because he had a function in Society, and also because he was going to die a violent death, and his modesty was hurt.
Tuesday, 27th September
Returning a last time to his flat, Delarue is surprised to find his bed has been slept on, only to remember it had not been made since he had been there last in July. Elsewhere, Boris heads off to see Lola, whilst Daniel is being his useful conniving git self.
Mathieu, understandably, is beginning to lose his stoic reserve and, rather aptly, is having an existential crisis:
He laid his hands on his knees, he must keep calm: may I not tomorrow revert to what I was yesterday? But he was not afraid. The church may collapse, I may tumble into a shell-hole, or drop back into my life: nothing can rob me of this eternal moment. There had been, and forever would be, that cold glare upon those stones the black sky: the absolutely, forever: the asbolute, without cause or sense or purpose, without past or future save a gratuitous, fortuitous, splended permanence. ‘I am free,’ he said suddenly. And his joy shrivelled into horror.
War does indeed seem to be on as the news filters through Hitler has mobilised German troops. Sartre cuts to Ivich, who is paranoid, fearing rape from German soldiers, and “I dare say they’ll cut off one of my legs.” She has a curt exchange with her more relaxed father. Back with Delarue, he meanders about in Paris at a deserted train station, considering whether to drown himself: “Rest at last – and why not?”:
This obscure suicide would also be an absolute, a law, a choice, and a morality, all of them complete. A unique, unmatchable act, a lightning-flash would light up the bridge and the Seine. He need only lean a little further over, and he would have made his choice for all eternity.
Given his personality traits, it’s not surprising to learn Delarue decides against it. Returning to a busier area, Paris is abuzz with mayhem and anti-war protests. It’s at this point he bumbles into Irene, a lady his age who has decided to try and defend a young lad who has been trampled in the mayhem. The two strike up a friendship and suddenly have a fleeting romance back at Irene’s apartment, before eventually discussing politics, with Irene concluding men are “swine”.
‘The point is,’ she said, ‘that as they are such swine, it is even more disgusting to use them to make war.’
She identifies herself as a pacifist with no other political aspirations. I have to state, though… there’s a fair bout of man bashing in this book! Fair enough, though – two World Wars in the space of 20 years isn’t the best record. Bloody men and their bloody egos.
Sartre’s lifelong partner was Simone de Beauvoir and there are overt hints here at her feminist leanings on the author (Sartre was, of course, liberal – a socialist). The political actions of men are depicted as evil or greedy throughout the Reprieve, with numerous women labelling men as “swine” or “evil”. Irene also instigates the brief fling with Delarue, with the latter swept along with it all, so there’s a clear indication of a potential turn in history here as women began to find their voice and assert themselves with authority.
Delarue remains ever the gentleman after the two have copulated, I shall indicate with British formality, with Irene then wanting some privacy in a touching moment of humanity.
‘Wait a moment,’ she said. ‘I must get out of bed to set the alarm, and put out the light. But don’t look, I’m rather shy of my large behind, and my short legs.’ He averted his eyes, and heard her moving about the room, then she switched off the light. She said, as she got back into bed: ‘I sometimes get up when I’m asleep and walk about the room. Just give me a clout on the head if I do.’
Wednesday 28th – Friday 30th September
In a final flurry of 40 pages, events race along, numerous days tick over, and the Munich Conference reaches a big conclusion. There are all manner of disparate emotions on display during this time as individuals brace themselves for the worst.
Delarue bumps into Ivich Serguine at his flat. He decides to settle her (he had been in love with Ivich in the first novel, although he now appears to have moved on from this) in his flat and she will receive his salary. Ivich, however, views his actions as “tactless”. Distressed, she soon begins to cry as the realisation of everything hits her, at which point Delarue embraces her and, moving on from his juvenile lust of previous years, finally fulfils his fatherly role towards her.
Upon leaving his apartment block, he is unexpectedly handed a letter. It’s from Daniel – it’s also an unbelievably verbose, pretentious, and tiresome rant about the nature of everything. In the Age of Reason, Delarue would have read it all and responded sincerely in kind. Having grown as a person, however, he simply abandons it mid-way through, stating “Stale trash” – he throws the letter away. For the reader, this effectively ends his relationship with Daniel, which had only ever been tenuous – in Iron in the Soul, however, it’s suggested they do continue to verbally spar in the cafes of Paris.
The news brims with the impending announcement after the political wrangling which has been taking place, with gusto, behind the scenes. Suddenly, Daladier makes a radio broadcast of a delayed announcement on the agreement, but at the last gasp, news spreads, it appears pitched battle has been averted. There will be no war. A character explains:
‘Hitler believed that Chamberlain and Daladier wanted to make trouble, while, at the same time, Chamberlain and Daladier thought he meant to attack. So Mussolini came along and convinced them they were mistaken: now it’s fixed up, and tomorrow all four of them will be having lunch together.’ – ‘What a spread that will be!’
In the early hours of the morning Sartre cuts to Neville Chamberlain, bleary eyed through lack of sleep, who is ready to depart with some good news.
‘France and Great Britain have just signed an agreement on the German claims in regard to the Sudetens. Thanks to the goodwill displayed by all parties, this agreement may be considered as embodying a definite advance on the Godesberg memorandum.’
What was that? Well, it was issued by Hitler on 24th September 1938 and was an ultimatum for his demands. In other words, Germany, the UK, France, and Italy, agreed to Hitler’s stipulations – this led to the evacuation of the Sudeten German territory. On 1st October, Nazi troops marched into the area and it immediately became part of Germany. Given Hitler’s already belligerent nature, this forced over 140,000 Sudeten Czechs and Sudeten Germans to flee to the remains of Czechoslovakia, which created a refugee crisis.
Although this satisfied Hitler and averted war, back in England Winston Churchill (so essential to the war battle shortly afterwards) was not impressed. He classed it as:
A total and unmitigated defeat. France and Britain had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war.
For France and the characters listed in the book, it certainly was a reprieve. On the face of it, a war had been avoided. Delarue mulls over becoming free once again, but the novel ends with a disturbed Daladier eyeing the celebrations in the streets of Paris, aware that Hitler has far greater plans in store. “The blind fools”, he says.
Goodbye to the Reprieve
The Reprieve is a dramatic and tense piece of writing, a thorough psychology examination of the state of France at a time of crisis and, seemingly, every possible nook and cranny of the human condition is contemplated.
From one character desperately needing to take a shit but being trapped on a train (I’m not making this up, it’s part of one storyline), to Daniel conniving his way about the place, or a young man in the form of Boris realising he is already dead, and Mathieu considering whether to commit suicide. It’s a mightily accomplished piece of writing!
It is also definitely not for everyone. Whilst elsewhere (on Goodreads, where users can review novels) we’ve seen others claim this is a big step up from Age of Reason, I disagree. It’s powerful, certainly, and innovative, but quite exhaustive to read (perhaps this was the point). Some may be put off within a few pages – when there are 350+ others of it, the Reprieve might simply come across as too daunting or utterly impenetrable.
When read as part of the Roads to Freedom trilogy, though, I’d say it’s a relevant and dramatic edition which transforms the books into something other than the standard selection of beginning, middle, and end stories.
Next time up, Iron in the Soul gets reviewed, which puts a lot of the Reprieve into context and will help you feel appreciative for putting in the effort and getting this thing read.