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Transit by Anna Seghers
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Transit (1944)

by Anna Seghers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4121538,483 (3.84)70
  1. 00
    Testimony by Lisa Fittko (MeisterPfriem)
    MeisterPfriem: The anti-nazi resistance fighters Lisa and Hans Fittko, in cooperating with Varian Frey, were risking their own lifes guiding refugees over the Pyrenees to Spain.
  2. 00
    Surrender on Demand by Varian Fry (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: Anna Seghers fled Nazi Europe through Marseille on a visa provided by Varian Fry, who saved many of the leading intellectuals and artists of Europe. This is his account of how he did it, published originally in 1945.
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» See also 70 mentions

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”You know of course what unoccupied France was like in the fall of 1940. The cities’ train stations, their shelters, and even the public squares and churches were full of refugees. They came from the north, the occupied territory and the ‘forbidden zone,’ from the Departments of Alsace, Lorraine, and the Moselle. And even as I was fleeing to Paris I realized these were merely the remnants of those wretched human masses as so many had died on the road or on the trains. But I hadn’t counted on the fact that many would be born on the way. While I was searching for a place to sleep in the Toulouse train station, I had to climb over a woman lying among suitcases, bundles and piles of guns, nursing a baby. How the world has aged in this single year! The infant looked old and wrinkled, the nursing mother’s hair was gray, and the faces of the baby’s two little brothers watching over her shoulder seemed shameless, old, and sad. Old also were the eyes of these two boys from whom nothing had been concealed, neither the mystery of death nor the mystery of birth.” (Page 30)

The unnamed narrator in Anna Seghers brilliant WWII novel has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and has made his way to Marsailles where the city teems with refugees waiting to board a ship, any ship, in order to escape the uncertain fate that awaits them all. The unbelievable bureaucratic red tape that delays, suspends and defers the attainment of the ubiquitous ‘transit papers’ turns the city into a waiting room for refugees where the unlikely narrator hears their stories and shares their experiences while pondering his own tentative future.

The story of refugees of this time or of our present day share many of the same qualities, so this novel offered a lot for the reader to think about in regard to the present day refugees, worldwide. The suffering, uncertainty and hardships are hard to accept without pondering how fortunate we are to not be in their shoes. Seghers novel brilliantly and in beautiful language shows us all we need to know while at the same time reading like a thriller. Very highly recommended. ( )
  brenzi | Mar 21, 2019 |
... 'don't you ever feel like going home again?'
… 'A leaf blowing in the wind would have an easier time finding its old twig again.'”
p 156

The narrator, who has escaped from a Nazi concentration has been captured and interred in a French camp. As the Nazi's approach, he fears for his life, and escapes a second time to flee to Paris. But once again, the Nazis are advancing, and after attempting to deliver a letter to a writer named Weidel whom he discovers has committed suicide, he flees south once more with Weidel's suitcase in hand.

The French, however, are not fond of refugees and so our narrator winds up with a variety of false identities as he enters Marseilles, France's last open port. He'd like to stay there, but is only allowed to be there if he is actively trying to leave, so he begins to half-heartedly play the game of acquiring the proper visas. This is a complicated since visas must be obtained for exiting France, entering the destination country, obtaining transit visas for each port in every country the ship may stop, and booking ship passage. The bureaucracy is almost insurmountable – one can not obtain item 'A' without first having item “D” and each item is only good for thirty days. He is one of a faceless mass, with very few of the overworked officials caring about much but their own safety.

It's also a deadly game as many of the refugees will be imprisoned if they aren't able to leave before the Nazis arrive- Jews, escapees from concentration camps, cripples, gypsies and those who fought against Franco.

The novel's repetitiveness and frustrations leave us feeling those emotions along with the refugees. It's a world where identities are lost and no plans can exist as one can only wait to see what happens next. ( )
  streamsong | Feb 13, 2017 |
The ports of Southern Europe are filling up with desperate refugees. They are residents of bombed-out cities, members of persecuted ethnic groups, people who belong to the wrong political party, people who have fought on the wrong side in earlier conflicts, people who don't know where they live or which country they belong to any more. And they are stuck on the border, trying to jump through the bureaucratic hoops in the right sequence so that they will be allowed to move on to a new life in another country.

But they are all heading south, to Africa, the Americas, anywhere away from the horror of Europe.

If you didn't know better, you might think that this was an elaborate satire on the present refugee crisis. But of course it's 1940/1941, we are in Vichy France, and the terror that the refugees are escaping from is that of Nazi Germany.

Seghers wrote this book whilst she was en route into exile in Mexico, and it clearly draws heavily on her own experience of the atmosphere of wartime Marseilles and the absurdities of the visa process, but it isn't a straight autobiographical account. She explores what it means to be a refugee through a narrator who is so alienated that he doesn't even have a name any more, still less a clear idea of where he is going or what he is escaping from. He is just a random ordinary person who got drawn into a fight with an SA man and found himself in a concentration camp, escaped to France by swimming the Rhine, and doesn't want to fall into the hands of the Nazis. He has acquired some false papers in the name of Seidler, and he would be perfectly happy to carry on living on those somewhere in France, but he has also accidentally got entangled with the posthumous existence of a deceased novelist called Weidler, whose friends are trying to get him to Mexico and whose estranged wife can't get out of France without his help.

Things get more and more complicated, and the narrator gets drawn further and further into the complexities of the visa system, where you typically find you can't get document A before you have received document B, but document B depends on document C, which you can't get without A, and so on. As we follow him through the queues and consulates and the chance meetings with fellow-refugees in cafés along the way, we gradually learn more about what it might feel like to be stateless, detached from your identity and background.

(Incidentally, we also learn a good deal more about the intriguing flat bread topped with cheese and tomatoes that is the staple food of the transients in Southern Europe - this must surely be one of the earliest literary explorations of pizza-culture...)

Not an easy or a cheerful read, even if it is often very funny, but definitely still a book we can learn something from today. ( )
2 vote thorold | May 8, 2016 |
This novel is told in the first person narrative and is a very engaging story. The characters are depicted as very human and we get a picture of life in the early WWII time period when displaced people are migrating out of Europe. You can feel the anxiety of those fleeing as they are trying to obtain the necessary documents while the laws were very rigid. I enjoyed this book very much and I would recommend it to those who like WWII era fiction.
( )
  EadieB | Jan 19, 2016 |
review to come. It was in interesting premise but somewhat repetitive and after a a while, I felt bored. ( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Seghers, Annaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Albrecht, Friedrichsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Böll, HeinrichAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Conrad, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dembo, Margot BettauerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
László, Gyurkósecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mooij, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rost, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolf, ChristaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Würzner, M.H.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Anna Seghers's Transit is an existential, political, literary thriller that explores the agonies of boredom, the vitality of storytelling, and the plight of the exile with extraordinary compassion and insight. Having escaped from a Nazi concentration camp in Germany in 1937, and later a camp in Rouen, the nameless twenty-seven-year-old German narrator of Seghers's multilayered masterpiece ends up in the dusty seaport of Marseille. Along the way he is asked to deliver a letter to a man named Weidel in Paris and discovers Weidel has committed suicide, leaving behind a suitcase containing letters and the manuscript of a novel. As he makes his way to Marseille to find Weidel's widow, the narrator assumes the identity of a refugee named Seidler, though the authorities think he is really Weidel. There in the giant waiting room of Marseille, the narrator converses with the refugees, listening to their stories over pizza and wine, while also gradually piecing together the story of Weidel, whose manuscript has shattered the narrator's "deathly boredom," bringing him to a deeper awareness of the transitory world the refugees inhabit as they wait and wait for that most precious of possessions: transit papers.… (more)

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