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Transit by Anna Seghers
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Transit (original 1944; edition 2001)

by Anna Seghers

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258644,311 (3.98)36
Member:erezv
Title:Transit
Authors:Anna Seghers
Info:Aufbau-Verlag (2001), Gebundene Ausgabe, 350 pages
Collections:Your library, Work
Rating:****
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Transit by Anna Seghers (1944)

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  1. 00
    Lisa Fittko : Autobiography 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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Showing 5 of 5
A novel set in the second world war, but with a very turn-of-the-century feel, rather like the novel one might have expected from Stefan Zweig had he carried on in this life a little bit longer, or lived a little later. That is, it's a novel without a lot of sudden revelations or dramatic turns. The development is slow and under the surface, and the reader is continually re-understanding what has been learned before.
No doubt this will bore some readers to tears, but for those with a little patience, it's got a lot to offer.

The story is surprisingly static - if you're expecting leering, sneering Nazi officers and swaggering GIs, you've wandered into the wrong book. Most of the story is set in Marseilles, where would-be exiles are trying to arrange to get the paperwork in order to get on a ship headed away from Europe. These are not heroes, they are ordinary people trying to get out of the way of fate. In other words, they are the immigrants who built the Americas in the middle of the last century.
But of course, this is all backdrop - just as a similar sort of plot is all backdrop to Casablanca, which story makes an interesting contrast to this one. The real story is a psychological study in the mold of Zweig or even Fontane. It is a puzzle: we are given the pieces of a story, like an equation, and we are left to solve the problem of the narrator's character. Seghers' artistry is in giving us enough to develop a convincing hypothesis on the first reading, but leaving enough unresolved to welcome a second pass.
I look forward to finding out whether what unfolds on the second reading demands another time through. ( )
  kiparsky | Jul 15, 2014 |
3.5/5"You know the fairy tale about the man who died, don't you? He was waiting in Eternity to find out what the Lord had decided to do with him. He waited and waited, for one year, ten years, a hundred years. He begged and pleaded for a decision. Finally he couldn't bear the waiting any longer. Then they said to him: 'What do you think you're waiting for? You've been in Hell for a long time already.'With that in mind, let's look now to that Sartre quote, "L'enfer, c'est les autres," ("Hell is other people,"), shall we? In the former, we have the judge, in the latter, the populace. It took a feat of supreme humanity to come up with the machinery bordering on infinite that combines the two in such convulsive precision: bureaucracy.

In this novel, we have the inheritor of Kafka and his brilliantly horrific vision of the vicious contortions human beings would willingly place themselves into. A rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea, the descendants of his compatriots and the wide open refuge and its incorporated corporations of name, line, and visa. World War II, a timeline running roughshod over its hordes of antling men, women, children, accomplishing the phenomenal feat of rendering every tale of terror into one of penultimate banality. Here we see the mad dash overlayed with countless stamps, seals, panderings officiated and otherwise, drawing out the tension laden chaos of millions scrambling for their lives into a thousand year machinery of filling, hoping, waiting. Always the waiting, the inheritance of all those displaced souls fleeing the wreckage of their heaving homeland, the machination of ancestral Pompeiians and modern Syrians alike.

Away, away, run far away, and then, perhaps, we'll let you stay, but only you who wants to, what? Away.

To stay, long enough for the comrades in migratory arms to deliver their own tales of endless woe. Long enough for the expired, the rejects, the missed deadlines by a hair and lack of the proper intersections of licenses to realize that to operate by logic is to fail. Long enough for the concentration camp escapees to become a dime a dozen, long enough for the guarantee of success to become a matter of absurdities complex enough to vaguely hint at serious realities and nothing more, long enough that a life worth writing about is no longer the end, but the means. To hitchhike on a lonely ghost up until the point of departure, and remain in place to see off that saving ship and its triumphant crowds, off on their hard won journey to their final place of rest.

Unbelievable? As unlikely as riotous invasion and systematic imprisonment can be. Disappointing? Depends on your personal definition of success: your life, or your life. Ironic? About as much as an author can make a genocide.The remnants of crushed armies, escaped slaves, human hordes who had been chased from all the countries of the earth, and having at last reached the sea, boarded ships in order to discover new lands from which they would again be driven; forever running from one death toward another.It's a small world after all, and everyone has been given their share of rope. ( )
  Korrick | Oct 13, 2013 |
Anyone who has seen the movie Casablanca, even if not as many times as I have, will remember the opening frames in which a route is traced across Europe from Paris to Marseille and from there to Oran and then Casablanca, where they "wait . . . and wait" for their exit visas. But before the refugees from Nazi Europe waited in Casablanca, or elsewhere, they waited in Marseille, the only port in France remaining in French hands. And it is Marseille in 1940/41 which is at the center of this stunning novel, written soon after Seghers herself fled from Marseille to Martinique (on the same ship as Claude Levi-Strauss, Victor Serge, and Andre Breton, all traveling on visas arranged by Varian Fry) and then to Mexico. It was published in 1944 in English and Spanish before being published in German, but I read the new English translation published by NYRB.

This is a book that is fascinating on multiple levels. At the most basic, it is a portrait of a wintry Marseille and of the refugees who flooded there after the fall of Paris and much of France, their desperation to get on the "last ship," and the insanely Catch 22 nature of the visa process, in which you couldn't get an exit visa if you didn't have a transit visa (allowing you to travel through countries on the way to your final destination), and you also had to have all sorts of other papers including ones that allowed you to stay in Marseille, which you couldn't get unless you had other papers proving that you planned to leave. Consulates open and close, many consular officials don't care about scheduling visa appointments before the ship someone has booked passage on is to leave, some people exert influence through money and other means, some sailors figure out ways to make money by including refugees on cargo ships, and more. Refugees live in hotels or rooming houses, exploited by landlords and landladies, hang out in cafes (despite the alcohol-free days), and gossip, gossip, gossip -- about visas and ships and money.

At the same time, this is something of a thriller. The narrator, known as Seidler because of the papers he obtained, a German who escaped from a concentration camp and fled to Paris, and then fled from Paris to Marseille, has wound up with the manuscript of and letters to a German writer named Weidel and thus finds himself mistaken for Weidel by various consular officials when he is trying to arrange to get the materials to Weidel's wife. He is not sure he wants to leave, although he isn't supposed to stay in Marseilles unless he is going to, as he has friends in Marseille and, then, becomes obsessed with a woman who comes into many of the cafes and restaurants he frequents, looking frantically at all the tables as if she is searching for someone she never finds. The woman turns out to be the lover of a doctor who is treating the son of Seidler's friends. Then the reader, a moment before Seidler, realizes who the woman is. Plot complications develop. Will they escape together or separately? Will they understand the connection between Seidler and Weidel? What is Seidler really up to?

And the novel is also a meditation on the nature of identity, the difficulties of exile, the ancient history of Marseille as a port and point of departure for many cultures, and human motivations for good or for evil. Along the way, Seghers, who is a terrific writer, introduces a variety of fascinating secondary characters. While I enjoyed the plot, I think I was more intrigued by Seghers' portrait of the city, the refugees, and their frantic activities, as well as by the narrator's thoughts about Marseille and his life there. There is an elegiac, sorrowful feel to the book about this particular time and place, but it also speaks to the life and plight of refugees in all times and places.

Some examples of Seghers' prose.

"Then my mood changed. Why? Who knows what causes these mood changes. Suddenly I no longer thought all the chitchat was disgusting; it seemed fascinating now. It was the age-old harbor gossip, as ancient as the Old Port itself and even older. Wonderful, ancient harbor twaddle that's existed as long as there's been a Mediterranean Sea, Phoenician chitchat, Cretan and Greek gossip, and that of the Romans. There was never a shortage of gossips who were anxious about their berths aboard a ship and about their money, or who were fleeing from all the real and imagined horrors of the world. Mothers who had lost their children, children who had lost their mothers. The remnants of crushed armies, escaped slaves, human hordes who had been chased from all the countries of the earth, and having at last reached the sea, boarded ships to discover new lands from which they would again be driven; forever running from one death toward another." p. 78

"Aren't you thoroughly fed up with such thrilling stories? Aren't you sick of all these suspenseful tales about people surviving mortal danger by a hair, about breathtaking escapes? Me, I'm sick and tired of them. If something still thrills me today, then maybe it's an old worker's yarn about how many feet of wire he's drawn in the course of his long life and what tools he used, or the glow of the lamplight by which a few children are doing their homework." p. 4
16 vote rebeccanyc | May 15, 2013 |
Geschrieben 1941/1942 im mexikanischem Exil, erschien der Roman 1944 in englischer und spanischer Sprache bevor eine Publikation in der deutschen Originalfassung möglich war (1947 in der Berliner Zeitung).

Ich muß gestehen, dass ich nach dem Lesen ihrer Erzählungen, von diesem Roman ein wenig enttäuscht war. Die Sprache hat für mein Ohr nicht die Dichte, damit die Intensität, die sie in den Erzählungen wie ‚Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara‘ oder ‚Das Licht auf dem Galgen‘ erreicht. (XII-11) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Jan 4, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anna Seghersprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Böll, HeinrichAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Conrad, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dembo, Margot BettauerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mooij, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rost, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Würzner, M.H.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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