, Volume 89, Issue 3, pp 403-418

Anna Seghers’s Transit: A Late Modern Thriller – Without Thrills

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Abstract

Anna Seghers wrote Transit whilst living in exile, fleeing her Nazi persecutors. The novel captures dramatically the moods and motives of refugees waiting to leave Europe in search of a new life. All stand at a crossroads, including the enigmatic male narrator, and as they look back on their ‘old’ lives in Europe and contemplate their ‘new’ lives beyond that continent, an unpredictable, non-dogmatic discourse on identity, commitment, and progress unfolds. The articles argues that this discourse, riddled with ambivalence, places the activist socialist Seghers well beyond any doctrinally realist stance and brings her closer to the hybrid textures of later twentieth century literature. Indeed, the adroit montage of existential and political monologues appears to be erected within the popular genre of the thriller. The analysis examines how Seghers exploits the narrative potency of a genre that was being taken increasingly seriously from the 1930s onwards, whilst playing with the reader’s expectations of the thriller. The author seems to ‘de-thrill’ the thriller. The article thus considers the stylistic and thematic make-up of Transit and also places it in a broader cultural matrix by comparing it with the film Casablanca, Hollywood’s classic tale of romance, flight, and commitment.