The novel set in Vichy Marseilles after France fell to Nazi Germany has been released by Qoqnush Publications in Tehran. Setareh Notaj is the translator of the book.
Written in German, it was published in English in 1944, and has also been translated into other languages.
It has been described as an “existential, political, literary thriller” about storytelling, boredom and exile.
The novel takes place in France during World War II after the German invasion and occupation of the north. The 27-year-old unnamed narrator has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and is traveling from Rouen.
Along the way to Marseilles, where he hopes to get passage on a ship to leave the country, he meets a friend, Paul. Paul asks the narrator to deliver a letter to a writer named Weidel in Paris.
When the narrator tries to do this, he learns that Weidel has committed suicide. The narrator also finds that Weidel left behind a suitcase full of letters and an unfinished manuscript for a novel, which he takes with him.
Arriving in Marseilles, the narrator describes the chaos of a town full of people from across Europe who are desperate to escape the Nazis.
Most of his time is spent in cafes, where he begins to recognize people who are also waiting, while the city has ever more limited amounts of food and alcohol on sale because of the increased population.
A mystery woman who haunts the cafes is Weidel’s estranged wife, desperate for his help to leave France. She doesn’t know Weidel is dead. The narrator falls in love with her and tries to arrange matters so she can leave with him, without her knowing that he has assumed Weidel’s identity (in order to use his visa and Mexican visa).
Throughout the novel, the narrator talks with several other refugees, sharing stories and experiences along the way. The story draws on Seghers’ own experience in wartime France.