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François is a sensitive and thoughtful student at a military boarding school in 1948. He is fourteen and an orphan, and the French are still fighting in Indochina, as they will continue to do for many years. He believes he will be sent to fight there when he graduates, and he is sure he will die in that far-away place. While he sees himself as stubbornly principled, others, including the school's bullies, simply see him as stubborn and a nuisance besides. In fact, his humiliation by the school's bullies is so constant that one of his persistent fantasies is to become a skilled boxer and trounce them all. That is one reason why he has become fixated on one of the school's military instructors, a handsome sergeant who was a championship boxer. While there may be an unformed erotic component to his fixation, it does not manifest overtly but adds fuel to his sexual initiation with the sergeant's wife.