“Aren’t you going to write another book?”
Then under that severe gaze of his that demanded the full truth, it just burst out of me. “I? No. Let me tell you why. As a little boy I often went on school trips. The trips were a lot of fun, but then the next day our teacher assigned us a composition on the subject, ‘Our school trip.’ And when we came back from summer vacations we always had to write a composition: ‘How I spent my vacation.’ And even after Christmas, there was a composition: ‘Christmas.’ And in the end it seemed to me that I experienced the school trips, Christmas, the vacations, only so that I could write a composition about them. And all those writers who were in the concentration camp with me, who escaped with me, it seems to me that we lived through these most terrible stretches in our lives just so we could write about them: the camps, the war, escape, and flight.”
—The unnamed protagonist of Anna Seghers’s Transit isn’t really a novelist, he’s just masquerading as one. But even so, he rejects the idea of living only in order to capture the experience in writing. The wonder of this passage is that Seghers herself wrote Transit while in exile in Mexico, having only just fled the Nazis via Marseille. What did she think of her fellow writers? What did she think of her own borrowing from experience?