Reading Group Reading Group: Anna Seghers - Transit (online)

Book Escape Route to Marseille Fluchtweg nach Marseille, ©Ingemo Engström, Gerhard Theuring, 1977

Tue, 17.11.2020


Birkbeck & Goethe-Institut London

Leading up a screening of the film Escape to Marseille by Ingemo Engström and Gerhard Theuring during the Essay Film Festival in April this yearl, the festival and the Goethe-Institute had scheduled three reading group sessions to discuss the novel Transit by Anna Seghers, which the film is based on. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we could only have one session and the screening was cancelled. We would now like to offer one more session to look at some other aspects of the novel to bridge the time until we will finally be able to show the film in the cinema and discuss it in connection with the book in the hopefully not too far away future. Erica Carter, Professor of German and Film at King's College London, will guide through the session.

Completed in 1942, first published in English and in Spanish in 1944, and eventually in Germany in 1948, Anna Seghers’s novel Transit is one of the great classics of exile literature. Written in her own exile in Mexico throughout 1941, it brilliantly captures the agonising state of limbo that refugees and exiles find themselves in as they wait for governments and bureaucracies to take decisions that can save their lives. In preparation of the screening of the adaption of the novel by Ingemo Engström and Gerhard Theuring Escape to Marseille on 4 April as part of the Essay Film Festival 2020, we invite you to a reading group that will explore some of the themes raised by Seghers's book and the cultural and historical context in which it was written.
Drawing on her own experiences of escaping from Nazi Germany, Seghers tells the story of a young German man, who, having escaped a concentration camp in Germany and a work camp in France, finds himself in Paris as the Nazis are occupying the city. Here an acquaintance from the camp asks him to deliver a letter to a friend, the writer Weidel, a favour that takes the unnamed protagonist on a journey through France to Marseille in late 1940. The seaport in the south of France has become the waiting room for thousands of European exiles and refugees hoping to get visas and tickets for passages to countries across the sea. Initially only an observer, or rather a listener to the stories of the people he meets in the corridors of consulates or in the local cafés, his fate becomes more and more entangled with that of Weidel to whom he was supposed to deliver the letter but never managed to do so. Marseille for him comes the place where he finds his great love and recovers his sense of compassion for others that he had deemed lost.

If you would like to join the reading group, please register in advance here:
Please register here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

If you have any questions about the reading group, please send a message marked "Transit reading group" to the following address:

In cooperation with the Essay Film Festival and the German Screen Studies Network.