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INTRODUCED BY STUART EVERS
'They kept streaming into the only port over which the French flag still waved. The masses wanting to leave the continent each week would have manned a giant flotilla. Yet not even one sad little ship was sailing on a weekly basis anymore.'
Having escaped from a Nazi concentration camp in Germany and a work camp in Rouen, the nameless narrator finds himself in the dusty seaport of Marseille. Along the way he was asked to deliver a letter to Weidel, a writer in Paris whom he discovered had killed himself as the Nazis entered the city. Now he is in search of the dead man's wife. He carries Weidel's suitcase, which contains an unfinished novel - and a letter securing Weidel a visa to escape France.
Assuming the name Seidler - though the authorities think he is in fact Weidel - he goes from cafe to cafe looking for Marie, who is in turn anxiously searching for her husband. As Seidler converses with refugees over pizza and wine, their stories gradually break down his ennui, bringing him a deeper awareness of the transitory world they inhabit as they wait and wait for that most precious of possessions: transit papers.
An existential, political and literary thriller first published in 1944, Transit is a multi-layered wartime masterpiece that explores the plight of the refugee with extraordinary compassion and insight.
'Transit belongs to those books that entered my life, and which I continue to engage with in my writing, so much that I have to pick it up every couple years to see what has happened between me and it' Christa Wolf
ANNA SEGHERS (1900-1983) was born Netty Reiling in Mainz, Germany, into a Jewish family. In 1924 she received a doctorate in Art History from the University of Heidelberg, and in the same year her first story, written under the name Antje Seghers, was published. During this time, she came into contact with many left-wing intellectuals, including her husband, a Hungarian economist, and began writing in earnest. By the end of 1928, Anna Seghers had joined the Communist Party, given birth to two children and was awarded the Kleist Prize for her first novel, The Revolt of the Fishermen of St Barbara.
As Jew, a Communist and a revolutionary writer, she was blacklisted in Nazi Germany and left for France in 1933 with her family. After the Nazi invasion in 1940, she was forced to flee again and, with the aid of Varian Fry, she and her family sailed from Marseilles to Mexico on a ship that included Victor Serge, André Breton and Claude Lévi-Strauss among its passengers.
Seghers gained international recognition with The Seventh Cross (1942), which became a bestseller. It was the basis for the 1944 MGM film starring Spencer Tracy and was one of the only depictions of Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War in either literature or film. It has been translated into more than thirty languages.
After the war Seghers moved to East Berlin, where she became a prominent figure of East German letters, actively championing the work of younger writers from her position as president of the Writers Union. Among Seghers' internationally acclaimed works are The Seventh Cross; Transit (1944); Excursion of the Dead Girls (1945); The Dead Stay Young (1949); and the story collection Benito's Blue (1973).