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3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,291 ratings  ·  142 reviews
Marseille im Sommer 1940: Am Rande Europas versammeln sich die von den Nazis Verfolgten und Bedrohten. Sie hetzen nach Visa und Bescheinigungen, um nach Übersee ins rettende Exil zu entkommen. Für kurze Zeit sind fremde Leben durch Hoffnungen, Träume und Leidenschaften miteinander verbunden.
Paperback, 290 pages
Published 2003 by Aufbau (first published 1944)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  1,291 ratings  ·  142 reviews

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Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Transit” is the perfect title for this masterpiece of refugee fiction!

There are so many layers of meaning in that short word, all symbolically integrated in the straightforward, realistic story, mirroring Anna Seghers’ own odyssey during the Second World War.

The most obvious meaning, which is the main topic of the novel, refers to a document required of people stuck in Marseille and trying to leave France for America. In addition to the pain of acquiring a visa, a costly
"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,3.5/5
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"An existential thriller" it says on the back cover and I think that's so, although maybe more existential than thriller. Which I mean as a compliment.

Our unnamed first-person protagonist has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and is now in Marseille. There is a plot involving a letter he is to take to a man named Weidel, only to find that Weidel has committed suicide. He cloaks himself, instead, in Weidel's identity. He does what, it seems, everyone does in France, going from on
Claire McAlpine
An incredible novel, written in a surreal time, while the writer was living in exile in Mexico, Anna Seghers (having left Germany in 1933 to settle in France) was forced (with her husband and two children) to flee from Marseille in 1940, the only port in France at that time that still flew the French flag, the rest under German occupation.

With the help of Varian Fry, (An incredible novel, written in a surreal time, while the writer was living in exile in Mexico, Anna Seghers (having left Germany in 1933 to settle in France) was forced (with her husband and two children) to flee from Marseille in 1940, the only port in France at that time that still flew the French flag, the rest under German occupation.

With the help of Varian Fry, (
Surrender on Demand) an American who came to Marseille to help artists, writers, intellectuals escape Europe, they found safe passage to Mexico, where they stayed until able to return to East Berlin, where she lived until her death in 1983.

While in Mexico she wrote this thought-provoking, accomplished, "existential, political, literary thriller" novel narrated by a 27 year old German man who has escaped two camps before finding himself in Paris and doing a favour for a friend, comes into possession of a suitcase of documents belonging to a German writer Weidel, who he will learn has taken his own life.

The young man takes the suitcase to Marseille, where he hopes to stay, something only possible if one proves one has the documents to leave. Alongside many others genuinely trying to flee, we follow him to hotels, cafes, consulates, shipping offices, travel bureaus and stand in line as he apples for visa and stamps that he has little invested interest in, observing the absurd demands made of people trying to find safe passage to what they hope is a free world.

The man he knows is dead has a wife widow waiting for him in Marseille, her story becomes part of the young man's quest, in this transitory city that holds a thin promise of a lifeline to the fulfillment of desperate dreams for so many refugees.

The complexity of requirements means many more are rejected than succeed and all risk being sent to one of the camps that the authorities send those whose papers are not in order.

Because our narrator is alone, without family and not in possesion of a story that invokes much sympathy in the reader, he quite likes this city and would like to stay, it removes something of the terror of what people were actually going through, allowing the reader to see the situation outside of the tragic humanitarian crisis it was, and instead to see the absurd situation and demands all refugees encounter, when they are forced to flee homes they don't want to leave to go to a safe(r) place equally they don't necessarily want to go to, but will do so to survive and in an attempt to keep their families together.

I highlighted so many passages, that I will go back and reread, and even though this book was written 77 years ago, there is something about the bureaucracy that still rings true in France, for immigrants today.

The depiction of Marseille, though in a time of terror is also evocative of that city today, only the places mentioned here are now frequented by people from a different set of countries, those who have fled or left in search of something better in the last 30 years, from parts of Africa, Vietnam, Lebanon and those who need to disappear for a while, finding anonymity and comradeship in the small alleys and cafes of Marseille, a city of temporary refuge, where everyone has a story that begins elsewhere.
Greg Brozeit
Every war creates its human collateral damage, not just among those engaged in or on the periphery of combat. People are redefined as casualties, victims, refugees and statistics. That’s easier and more palatable. Abstraction and distance—geographical, cultural, historical—makes it easier for the rest of us to get on with our lives. Even with the constant barrage of news and images of war that enter our living rooms, it’s rare that we ever really understand what it means to live in times of war. ...more
Stephen P
Jun 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
War? It is what it is. It can't be helped or stopped. I have escaped from a French prison camp. Joining the other seeking refugees across the river we feel the Germans close behind.

Paris is the first time I have felt anything. The Nazis already occupy the streets. The names are changed to German names as are the hotels and landmark buildings. The feeling of disorientation and repair is brief. Gone. Now survival. I am a survivor. Feelings cut into the keenness of awareness and reaction.

As happe
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of Anna Seghers until a few days ago. Now, having read Transit, I think she is one of the five greatest 20th century authors writing in German.

Transit is about refugees displaced by the Nazi invasion of France holed up in Marseilles desperately trying to collect the exit visas, transit visas, final destination visas, and shipping tickets allowing them to seek safety. The narrator is a German camp escapee who has assumed the identity of a writer who had committed suicide in Paris and who meets up wi
Patrice Hoffman
Transit is the first-person narrative of a difficult time when transit papers meant everything. The acquiring of a visa, an exit visa, danger visa, or transit visa are what keeps the characters in this novel away from a new life. After escaping from a Nazi concentration camp, our protagonist is asked to deliver papers in Paris to an author named Weidel. Once he's there, our narrator discovers that Weidel has committed suicide as well as a manuscript for a novel. It is in a large waiting room whe ...more
The nameless narrator of Anna Seghers' Transit is on the run having escaped a work camp. He is trying to escape the war in Europe by emigrating, and the novel tells the story of mistaken identity, bureaucratic frustrations, and the multifaceted landscape of Marseilles at the beginning of the Second World War.

Weidel, who our narrator is on his way to deliver a letter to, dies with coveted transit documents in a suitcase containing the manuscript of his last work. Weidel's estranged, ex-wife is in Marse
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this for Academic Decathlon 2016-17. It was... it was okay, i would not read it for fun. I myself thought it was kind of predictable in a lot of areas.

Just glad to be done!
Nicholas During
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book so much. It's kinda a literary mystery tale, set in Marseille as WWII is driving crowds of European émigrés into the the last remaining free port. Which of course becomes a hell-hole of consulate queues, mistaken identities, imagined boats, and the endless search for that visa that will get you the fuck out of the continent. Our hero, who isn't even sure if he wants to stay or go, gets caught up in the mess after trying to deliver a manuscript to a missing author, dead by suicide ...more
James Murphy
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the spring and summer of 1940, as the Nazis overwhelmed France militarily and occupied her, many tried desperately to flee through Marseilles. Streams of refugees arrived there clamoring for exit visas and transit visas and berths on the few ships leaving for the western hemisphere and safety. This novel follows 3 such refugees as they try to escape the war.

This is described as an existential novel. The narrative's thick layers of ennui and spiritual disorientation make this plain
Neil R. Coulter
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I had never heard of Anna Seghers or her 1944 novel, Transit, but then last month, before the brilliant Cold War, we saw a trailer for the new movie based on Transit. That trailer included a critic quote that says, “Like Casablanca as written by Kafka,” and it had my attention. I was thrilled to learn that the movie is based on a book, and I checked it out of the library.

Before talking about the book, though, I want to take a moment to revel in the copy of the book that the Dallas Public Library sent to me (in fact, the only copy of the book in the
October Nell Owen
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
I'm honestly very surprised that so many people liked this book. I literally just read a 5-page analysis trying to make Transit seem like an incredible, tragically underrated novel and I'm still not convinced.

I will admit that Transit provides an intriguing insight into the awful struggles refugees face(d), especially during WWII. This is not simply an author's interpretation of how they think refugees felt as they strove to reach a place where they could be safe and free: these are
Transit is a extraordinarily bleak novel.

As other reviewers have noted, it's a novel entirely about bureaucracy, and its horrors. Its narrator is a man attempting to flee Germany during the throes of Nazism, as he waits in the narrow zone of unoccupied France for paperwork to be processed. He is surrounded by others attempting to do the same. The whole thing is just an unremitting gray expanse of deadening anxiety and powerlessness.

It's hard to read; Seghers grants the reader no
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in 1940 Marseille and written in 1942 before the war's end, this novel offers an interesting perspective of World War II, much like Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. This book is a mix of the movie Casablanca, Albert Camus's empty existentialist narration, a case of deliberate misidentification and the crushing and ironic weight of bureaucracy. The three main characters include the narrator Seidel, a dead writer named Weidel, and his widow Marie (although Marie doesn't know he's dead). Ho ...more
May 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Great book! Partially written during time when she was stuck in Marseille herself, so it has an element of truthfulness that is felt troughout the entire story. Also, written before her GDR-period so not annoyingly propagandistic like some of her later writing. To me, rich contemplation on "identity" and "truth"! As a German, also like the exotic element.
Alec Johnsson
Apr 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Transit is true-life Kafka—an account of refugees struggling to escape the Nazi invasion of France via the port city of Marseille, where they are imprisoned not by blunt despotism, but by simple paperwork and bureaucracy. The narrator, unreliably named “Seidler”, is an escaped German POW who comes into possession of the papers of Weidel, an author who has killed himself, and who travels to Marseille to return them to his widow Marie, all while blissfully dismissive of the chaos enveloping France ...more
Dec 07, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
"For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live." - Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

In the past two years, the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe (and now across the world) has been the most widespread since World War II. It has challenged the ability of free nations to balance compassion with security and has changed the political climate to the extent that xenophobia and populist dissent are now threatening to overrun the free world. In reading the fiction of
Joey Butler
Nov 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is really a great one, it does a great job at depicting what life would be like for people trying to leave Europe during the halocaust. A man who was a German citizen somehow ended up in a concentration camp via France. The Germans were coming but only would've thrown him back in another camp since he has already been one, so they escaped when the French soldiers were leaving. He ended up in Marseilles where he and a girl he falls for tries to leave with the many troubles in the path. ...more
Ieva Šukytė
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
“I? No. Let me tell you why. As a little boy I often went on school trips. The trips were a lot of fun, but then the next day out teacher assigned us a composition on the subject, ‘Our school trip’. And when we came back from summer vacations we always had to write a composition: ‘ How I spent my vacation’. And even after Christmas, there was a composition: ‘Christmas’. And in the end it seemed to me that I experienced the school trips, Christmas, the vacations, only so that I could write a comp ...more
Daniel Polansky
Anna Seghers was a German communist who escaped the Nazi regime on the same boat that took Victor Serge to Mexico, fictionalizing her nightmarish escape from Europe in this beautiful, searing, tragic novel. Seidel is a strangely upbeat German everyman, who escapes from a concentration camp and makes his way to Marseille, joining a vast crowd of refugees, desperate to escape the tangled bureaucracy and the coming certainty of death. Amid this chaos Seidel finds a curious balance, stemming from hi ...more
Genevieve Brassard
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5: Another great pick for my European Lit course this fall! Very bleak and possibly more Kafkaesque than Kafka (!) so might be a hard sell with students, but also darkly funny so fingers crossed. Now I want to see the recent film adaptation 🙂
Tom Wascoe
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written book detailing the life of a refugee in transit during WWII. A rarely told story of the uncertainty, fear, hopelessness and boredom faced by the refugees and they tried to muddle through the government bureaucracy to exit to a country anywhere but where they came from.
The unnamed protagonist of Transit is a 27-year-old German man who has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp in the late 1930s and is now in Marseilles awaiting his transit papers. He was brought to Marseilles by a series of events that involve delivering a letter to someone in Paris, taking that man's suitcase, assuming the name of a refugee (though authorities believe he's the name of the person who belongs to the suitcase), and trying to find the man's wife.

This is an interesting story
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Transit is a terrific, extraordinary book that left me breathless and moved me with an intensity that has echoed in my mind for days. Inspired by Segher’s own personal experience, Transit is the harrowing story – told by a narrator who’s not as jaded as he would want us to believe – of all the European refugees who, during WWII, as France was falling under the Nazi rule, stayed in the city of Marseille (then part of a so-called free zone), looking for a way to escape the country. Think Casablanc ...more
There's a sense of despair and panic with this book. The characters on the whole are looking to escape from the Germans and from France. However there is so much red tape, a visa arrive in a country, visas for the countries you are going to pass through but not stay, an exit visa etc. In order to leave these must all be in date and even then your cabin can be appropriated or the ship can sink. Or you can be stuck on board in the harbour of a country which refuses to allow you to dock.
The n
Nov 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Transit by Anna Seghers is a jump back into the time period of world war two and what is was like at the time to be in a German refuge situation. At times I couldn't follow where the book was and what was going on. At one point he is talking about cyclopes and then he is in a different city. I really liked the overall story because it was different. It was real. Despite liking the story I felt like I couldn't get comfortable with the book and really set all my attention on it and focus. It doesn ...more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Interesting and different perspective on WWII. The story of a concentration camp escapee who makes his way to the coast ahead of German advances. It's the story of the refugees waiting and waiting for their documents so they can leave France and flee Europe. They're not wanted, but they can't leave. It resonates with the situation of refugees today. Based on the author's own experiences.
Kobe Bryant
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives a good feeling of listlessness
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Anna Seghers (November 19, 1900, Mainz – June 1, 1983, Berlin) was a German writer famous for depicting the moral experience of the Second World War.

Born Netty Reiling in Mainz in 1900 of partly Jewish descent, she married Laszlo Radvanyi, a Hungarian Communist in 1925.

In Cologne and Heidelberg she studied history, the history of art and Chinese. She joined the Communist Pa
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“What can I expect here? 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.” 9 likes
“When you're young and healthy you can recover quickly from a defeat. But betrayal is different—it paralyzes you.” 5 likes
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