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Book Club: The Passenger

with Ulrich Baer

General: Free

About the Book

Berlin, November 1938. Jewish shops have been ransacked and looted, synagogues destroyed. As storm troopers pound on his door, Otto Silbermann, a respected businessman who fought for Germany in the Great War, is forced to sneak out the back of his own home. Turned away from establishments he had long patronized, and fearful of being exposed as a Jew despite his Aryan looks, he boards a train.

And then another. And another . . . until his flight becomes a frantic odyssey across Germany, as he searches first for information, then for help, and finally for escape. His travels bring him face-to-face with waiters and conductors, officials and fellow outcasts, seductive women and vicious thieves, a few of whom disapprove of the regime while the rest embrace it wholeheartedly.

Clinging to his existence as it was just days before, Silbermann refuses to believe what is happening even as he is beset by opportunists, betrayed by associates, and bereft of family, friends, and fortune. As his world collapses around him, he is forced to concede that his nightmare is all too real.

Twenty-three-year-old Ulrich Boschwitz wrote The Passenger at breakneck speed in 1938, fresh in the wake of the Kristallnacht pogroms, and his prose flies at the same pace. Taut, immediate, infused with acerbic Kafkaesque humor, The Passenger is an indelible portrait of a man and a society careening out of control.

Description taken from Macmillan Publishers.

About the Author

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz was born in Berlin in 1915. He left Germany in 1935 for Oslo, Norway, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and wrote two novels, including The Passenger. Boschwitz eventually settled in England in 1939, although he was interned as a German “enemy alien” after war broke out—despite his Jewish background—and subsequently shipped to Australia. In 1942, Boschwitz was allowed to return to England, but his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine and he was killed along with 362 other passengers. He was twenty-seven years old.

About our Guest

Ulrich Baer
Ulrich Baer. Photo Courtesy: Cagibi.

Ulrich Baer (moderator) is University Professor at New York University where he teaches literature and photography. His books include Remnants of Song: The Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul CelanSpectral Evidence: The Photography of TraumaThe Rilke Alphabet; What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Equality and Truth in the University, and, as editor and translator, The Dark Interval: Rilke’s Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation; the German edition of Rainer Maria Rilke's Prose, and, with Amir Eshel, Hannah Arendt zwischen den Disziplinen. He hosts the ideas podcast, Think About It and has published new editions of numerous classic books, including Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, as well as new translations of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, and Zweig’s Chess Story.