Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, November 15, 2013

Transit Anna Seghers, introduction by Peter Conrad, afterword by Heinrich Böll, translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo

I am really glad I decided to once again participate in 
German Literature Month November 2013.  I thank Caroline and Lizzy for hosting this great reading event.  One of the goals that Caroline and Lizzy are striving for this year for around half of the generated posts to be on works by women writers.  I am today making my first contribution toward this goal, having just read Anne Seghers' Transit written in 1942.  It is one of the very few novels written by a German woman in opposition to the Nazis during the war.  It might be the only one.  In 1942 the Germansvwere in control of most of Western and Central Europe and appeared unstoppable.

Have you ever seen the classic American movie Casablanca? I love it and have seen it twice just in the last thirty days.  Transit, just like Casablanca, centers on displaced persons seeking exit visas to escape Europe and the Nazis.  Transit is set in Marseilles, France. Marseilles was in unoccupied by the Nazis France and many international citizens fled there when Paris was occupied.  People were desperate to get visa to leave the country.  Visa seekers were caught up in a beuracratic  nightmare of conflicting requirements.  

The first person protagonist finds a suitcase by an author he later finds out is dead.  Through a series of misunderstandings he is soon taken to be the author and the authorities assume the author's real name is his pen name.  Of course Marseilles is full of the refuge of Europe and those who would prey on them.  The Nazis are only mentioned a few times but you can feel the terror that their emblems invoked. 

One of the dominant motifs of this story is boredom.  The narrator over and over says he feels his narrative will bore people.  He speaks of being bored waiting around to see if he can get a visa.  

There is a romance in the story.  The imposter meets the dead author's wife and they begin a star crossed love affair.  I found that part of the work a little forced.  

Transit is a very interesting culturally significant novel.  It is the consensus best novel by Seghers and appears to be her only translated into English work.  

I love the dueling anthems scene in Casablanca and I just want this picture on my blog.

About this author

Anna Seghers (November 19, 1900, Mainz – June 1, 1983, Berlin) was a German writer famous for depicting the moral experience of the Second World War.

Born Netty Reiling in Mainz in 1900 of partly Jewish descent, she married Laszlo Radvanyi, a Hungarian Communist in 1925.

In Cologne and Heidelberg she studied history, the history of art and Chinese. She joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1928, at the height of its struggle against the burgeoning National Socialist German Workers Party. Her 1932 novel, Die Gefährten was a prophetic warning of the dangers of Fascism, which led to her being arrested by the Gestapo.

Tombstone of Anna Seghers in BerlinAfter German troops invaded the French Third Republic in 1940, she fled to Marseilles and one year later to Mexico, where she founded the anti-fascist 'Heinrich-Heine-Klub', named after the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, and founded Freies Deutschland (Free Germany), an academic journal. During this time, she wrote The Seventh Cross, for which she received the Büchner-Prize in 1947. The novel is set in 1936 and describes the escape of seven prisoners from a concentration camp. It was published in the United States in 1942 and produced as a movie in 1944 by MGM starring Spencer Tracy. The Seventh Cross was one of the very few depictions of Nazi concentration camps, in either literature or the cinema, during World War II.

Seghers best-known story The Outing of the Dead Girls (1946), written in Mexico, was an autobiographical reminiscence of a pre-World War I class excursion on the Rhine river in which the actions of the protagonist's classmates are seen in light of their decisions and ultimate fates during both world wars. In describing them, the German countryside, and her soon-to-be destroyed hometown Mainz, Seghers gives the reader a strong sense of lost innocence and the senseless injustices of war, from which there proves to be no escape, whether or not you sympathized with the Nazi party. Other notable Seghers stories include Sagen von Artemis (1938) and The Ship of the Argonauts (1953), both based on myths.

In 1947, Anna Seghers returned to Germany, moved to West Berlin, and became a member of the SED in the zone occupied by the Soviets. In 1950, she moved to East Berlin and became a co-founder of the freedom movement of the GDR. In 1951, she received the first Nationalpreis der DDR and the "Ehrendoktorwürde der Universität Jena" in 1959. In 1981, she became "Ehrenbürgerin" of her native town Mainz.

Anna Seghers gets a "cameo" mention in the ostalgie film, Good Bye Lenin!. From


So far I have read and posted on these works, all but Kafka are new to me writers. 
The Tin Drum-by Gunther Grass
"The Judgement" by Franz Kafka
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque -very powerful war novel 
"A Letter from an Unknown Woman" by Stefan Zweig. 
The Death of the Adversary by Hans Klein - a work of genius
"The Job Application" by Robert Walser 
Chess Game by Stefan Zweig-I will read much more of his work
"The Battle of Sempach" by Robert Walser
I have also listed to podcasts of "Basta" and "Frau Wilkes" by Robert Walser
The March of Radetsky by Joseph Roth I hope to read all his work

Memoirs of an Anti-Semite by Gregor von Rezzori amazing work of art.

"Flypaper" by Robert Musil

"Mendel the Bibliophile" by Stefan Zweig - I totally love this story.

"The Dead are Silent" by Arthur Schnitzler an entertaining work from 1907

"There Will Be Action" by Heinrich Boll a very good short story by Nobel Prize Winner

"A Response to a Request" by Robert Walser


Anna said...

Thank you for bringing this one to my attention. It sounds fantastic!

JacquiWine said...

Very interesting post and background on Seghers, and I like the connections you've drawn with Casablanca.

You're right, the Nazi's are only mentioned a few times, but their emblems are there, especially in the Paris section of the novel.