The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

German fiction

Original title –  Der Reisende

Translator – Philip Boehm

Source – Personal copy

Pushkin has a habit of turning up with these lost gems of writers from around Europe. Here we have Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. Boschwitz was the son of a Jewish businessman that died in world war one where he was brought up by his protestant mother they left Germany for Sweden but in the mid-thirties he was called up for the Wehrmacht. So they went on the run around Europe before ending up in London in 1939 where he published his second novel under the name John Grane and the original title was  The man who took trains. This and his debut novel didn’t come out in German until a few years ago this is a new translation of the book that follows the events on Kristallnacht written shortly after that night Ulrich captures the chaos but also the loss of personal identity for our main character otto Silbermann.

I’m living as though I weren’t a jew, he thought, somewhat incredulously. For this time being I’m simply a well-to-docitzen- under threat, it’s true, but as of yet unscathed. How is this possible ? I live in a modern six room apartment, People talk to me and treat me as though I were one of them. They act as if i’m same person I used to be, the liars – it’s  enough to give a man a guilty conscience. Whereas I’d like to show them a clearer picture of reality, namely that as if yesterday I’m something different because I am a Jew. And who did I used to be? no-who am I , really A swear word on two legs, one that people mistake for something else!

It dawns of Otto what has happened and how the world is changing.

The action opens just after Kristallnacht has just happened in Berlin and it has finally dawned on Otto Silbermann a successful Jewish businessman that runs a factory just about until now he thought he was going to avoid the worst of what was happening he isn’t overly Jewish looking and had a German wife. But when he meets his partner Becker after the night as he talks he notices the difference in his manner and later at a hotel he had been going to for years he sees how people treat him differently.  But this single night has turned the world around him to one he doesn’t know and he now must try and get money for his business and try and find a way out of Germany what follows is a wonderful portrayal of a man on the run as he sells his business for a pittance and then goes on the run on train after train rides as he crisscrosses Germany trying to connect with old friends and work a way out of German even at one point he gets to a border but is then turned back into the heart of Nazis Germany. There is a sense of the world shrinking around Otto as he sees who are his true friends and acquaintances are and those that now despise him as it shows the way the Nazis manipulated people.

Silbermann’s coat pockets were bulging out from all the bills, so he went to a shop to buy a briefcase, after making the purchase he realized it was already 6:55, so he dashed to the nearest post offive, where he too a form from the telegragh counter and sent a local telegram to his wife. Because he was worried about returnuning to his apartment, he asked her to meet him in a cafe close to home.

When he left the post office he wondered what he should do with the forty-one thousand five hundered marks he has recovered. He decided no to dwell on the matter of Becker and how deeply his former friend had disappointed him although that did little to stave off his painful, depressing reflections.

AS he starts to go on the run with the money from his buisness and the loss of his friends

This is a classic thriller that goes at full pace as we see Otto trying to get away, of course, the train and escape is a nod towards John Buchan in a way Hannay of course tries to escape the spies that are following him on a train to Scotland. Then he has taken a large linch of Kafka as the world he is living in becomes a maze of these train journeys as he tries to escape and avoid being seen as Jewish the world he knows is changing to a Kafkaesque nightmare before him as door after door gets shut in front of him. Otto is the every Jews Man of Berlin after that night trying to escape the collapsing world around them in Otto case he has the fact he can pass as Aryan but it still means his papers are showing him as Jewish. Another gem from Pushkin and I feel there are still more books out there waiting to be rediscovered that like this haven’t aged the book actually feels modern and the pace it is told at is wonderful we get caught up in the chaos of that world.

Winstons score – +A a true gem rediscovered

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Jun 14, 2021 @ 11:46:59

    Yes, I want this one. Thanks yet again for an enticing review!

    Reply

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Jun 14, 2021 @ 18:07:30

    Great review Stu – looking forward to this one myself! 😀

    Reply

  3. Trackback: That was the month that was June 2021 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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