Anna Seghers

They’re saying that the Montreal went down between Dakar and Martinique. That she ran into a mine. The shipping company isn’t releasing any information. It may just be a rumor. But when you compare it to the fate of other ships and their cargoes of refugees which were hounded over all the oceans and never allowed to dock, which were left to burn on the high seas rather than being permitted to drop anchor merely because their passengers’ documents had expired a couple days before, then what happened to the Montreal seems like a natural death for a ship in wartime, That is, if it isn’t at all just a rumor. And provided the ship, in the meantime, hasn’t been captures or ordered back to Dakar. In that case the passengers would now be sweltering in a camp at the edge of the Sahara. Or maybe they’re already happily on the other side of the ocean. Probably you find all of this pretty unimportant? You’re bored? – I am too, May I invite you to join me at my table? Unfortunately I don’t have enough money for a regular supper. But how about a glass of rosé and a slice of pizza? Come, sit with me. Would you like to watch them bake the pizza on the open fire? Then sit next to me. Or would you prefer the view of the Old Harbor? Then you’d better sit across from me. You can see the sun go down behind Fort. St. Nicolas. That certainly won’t be boring.

Pizza is really a remarkable baked item. It’s round and colorful like an open-face fruit pie. But bite into it and you get a mouthful of pepper. Looking at the thing more closely, you realize that those aren’t cherries and raisins on top, but peppers and olives. You get used to it. But unfortunately they now require bread coupons for pizza, too.

I’d really like to know whether the Montreal went down or not. What will all those people do over there, if they’ve made it? Start a new life? Take up new professions? Pester committees? Clear the forest primeval? 


If that is, there really is a genuine wilderness over there, a wilderness that can rejuvenate everyone and everything. If so, I might almost regret not having gone along. –Because, you know, I actually had the opportunity to go. I had a paid-for ticket, I had a visa, I had a transit permit. But then at the last moment I decided to stay.

There was a couple on the Montreal I knew casually. You know yourself what these fleeting acquaintances you make in train stations, consulate waiting rooms, or the visa department of the prefecture are like. The superficial rustle of a few words, like paper money hastily exchanged. Except that sometimes you’re struck by a single exclamation, a word, who knows, a face. It goes right through you, quickly, fleetingly. You look up, you listen, and already you’re involved in something. I’d like to tell someone the whole story from beginning to end. If only I weren’t afraid it was boring. Aren’t you thoroughly fed up worth such thrilling stories? Aren’t you sick of all these suspenseful tales about people surviving mortal danger by a hair, about breathtaking escapes? Me, I’m sick and tired of them. If something still thrills me today, then maybe it’s and old worker’s yarn about how many feet of wire he’s drawn in the course of his long life and what tools he used, or the glow of the lamplight by which a few children are doing their homework.

Be careful with that rosé! It tastes just the way it looks, like raspberry syrup, but can make you incredibly tipsy. It’s easier then to put up with everything. Easier to talk. But when the time comes to get up, your knees will be wobbly. And depression, a perpetual state of depression will take hold of you–till the next glass of rosé. All you’ll want is to be allowed to just sit there, never again to get involved in anything.

In the past I often got embroiled in things I’m ashamed of today. Just a little ashamed–after all, they’re over and done with. On the other hand, I’d be dreadfully ashamed if I were boring someone. Still, I’d like to tell the whole story, just for once, from the beginning.

This book is published by New York Review Books Classics and is available for purchase here.

Background illustration by Marcela Gutiérrez