NYRB Classics: Anna Seghers' "Transit," with Madeleine Schwartz & Edwin Frank

September 10, 2020, 7:30 PM

Madeleine Schwartz and NYRB Classics editor Edwin Frank join us for a discussion of Anna Seghers' masterpiece, Transit, a prescient novel grappling with the transient refugee experience. This event is co-hosted with The Ballot. This program will take place on Zoom. Register here: 

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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.

Madeleine Schwartz is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerThe New York TimesThe London Review of BooksThe GuardianHarper’sPoliticoThe NationElleArtforum, and The New York Review of Books, where she worked as an editor for several years. Her reporting has been supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation. Her article “The End of Atlanticism: has Trump killed the ideology that won the cold war?” won the 2019 European Press Prize. She is the creator and editor of The Ballot.

Edwin Frank is the founder and editor of the NYRB Classics series and the author of a book of poems, Snake Train.

The Ballot: Nearly 70 countries will have elections in 2020. We're likely to hear about only one. Yet populism, the impacts of income inequality, institutional decay—these are global phenomena. People around the world are facing similar problems and should be sharing what they know. We are starting this project to bridge that gap. Our budget is tiny. Your support will help us expand. The hope is that we might offer a glimpse of the world in 2020 and begin a conversation about where we go from here.