Author(s): Anna Seghers
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 Anna Seghers's multilayered masterpiece, Transit, ends up in the dusty seaport of Marseilles. 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 with letters and the manuscript of a novel inside. As he makes his way to Marseilles to find Weidel's wife, 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 Marseilles, 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 their transit papers, some leaving, only to disappear into internment camps. Several years before Waiting for Godot, Seghers wrote this existential, political, literary thriller that explores the significance of literature and the agonies of boredom and waiting with extraordinary compassion and insight.
ANNA SEGHERS (1900-1983) was one of the most important German women writers of the twentieth century. Born Netty Reiling in Mainz and of Jewish descent, she received a doctorate in art history at the University of Heidelberg, joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1928, and soon began to publish novels and short stories. After the 1940 Nazi invasion of France, Seghers, her husband and their two children, and Victor Serge and his son sailed from Marseilles to Mexico. She gained international recognition with The Seventh Cross (1939); published in the United States in 1942, it was the basis for the 1944 MGM film starring Spencer Tracy and was one of the only depictions of Nazi concentration camps during World War II, in either literature or the cinema. After the war she returned to Germany, settling in East Berlin, where she was active in the cultural and political development of the GDR. PETER CONRAD was born in Australia, and since 1973 has taught English literature at Christ Church, Oxford. He has published nineteen books on a variety of subjects; among the best known are Modern Times, Modern Places, A Song of Love and Death,The Everyman History of English Literature, and studies of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. His most recent book is Creation: Artists, Gods and Origins, published in 2007. He has been a prolific writer of features and reviews for many magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Observer, the New Statesman, The Guardian, and The Monthly. HEINRICH BOLL (1917-1985) was one of Germany's foremost post-World War II writers. He wrote short stories, essays, plays, and novels, the most famous of which are Billiards at Half-Past Nine,The Clown, Group Portrait with Lady, and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Boll was awarded the Georg Buchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. MARGOT BETTAUER DEMBO has translated Judith Hermann, Robert Gernhardt, Joachim Fest, Odon von Horvath, Feridun Zaimoglu, and Hermann Kant, among other authors. She was awarded the Goethe-Institut/Berlin Translator's Prize in 1994 and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize in 2003. Dembo also worked as a translator for two feature documentary films, The Restless Conscience, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and The Burning Wall.