cover image The Passenger

The Passenger

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, trans. from the German by Philip Boehm. Metropolitan, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-31714-8

A German Jew evades arrest by traveling on a series of trains in this uncanny 1938 novel from Boschwitz (1915–1941), his first to be published in English. WWI veteran Otto Silbermann slips out the back door of his Berlin house when Nazis show up to arrest him in 1938. He seeks out his Aryan business partner, Becker, in Hamburg, to recover a debt, and Becker unleashes an anti-Semitic screed before paying up. Otto uses the money to aimlessly ride the rails (“I am safe, he thought, I am in motion. And on top of that I feel practically cozy”). He eventually tries to sneak into Belgium, only to be returned to Germany by soldiers who reject his attempted bribes. He avoids Jewish acquaintances and pesters his son in Paris to figure out how to get him to France, but when the briefcase containing the money goes missing, Otto loses all hope of escape. His bleak reflections on his endless journey (“I’m a prisoner. For a Jew the entire Reich is one big concentration camp”) are contextualized by scathing observations of Aryan Germans, who sometimes offer mild sympathy but ultimately seem to find the concentration camps “rather novel and quaint.” This chilling time capsule offers a startling image of fascism taken hold. (Apr.)