«money: a promise?»

Alfred Andersch, Sansibar or Flight to Afar (der letzte Grund)

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Published by Diogenes, 1970

 

Not sunny Zanzibar but dull Rerik on the Baltic Sea provides the setting of the accidental meeting of five people whose destinies become intertwined on this freezing cold day in the autumn of 1937. The life of every one of them is affected by a system of terror, maintained by ‘the others’, the Nazis, as the reader finds out in the course of the book.

 

Every protagonist has his or her own reasons for trying to escape. The disillusioned young functionary Gregor wants to go to Sweden to evade the task of re-organizing the Rerik resistance for the Communist Party. What stops the communist fisherman Knudsen from escaping is the thought that his mentally confused wife Bertha might then fear for her life under the Nazis. Knudsen’s apprentice, a nameless 15-year-old, dreams of leaving his conservative parental home for Utopian Zanzibar. Pastor Helander would already be satisfied with a passage over the Baltic Sea, in order to save the small sculpture ‘Lesender Klosterschüler’ (translates as ‘Studying Monk’), defamed as ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazis. Finally, there is the young Jewish woman Judith Levin who wants to escape imminent deportation.

 

The 1957 novel ‘Sansibar oder der letzte Grund‘ (English: ‘Flight to Afar’) written by Munich-born author Alfred Andersch was positively received by critics and readers alike. Published in 1952, his autobiographical report ‘Die Kirschen der Freiheit’ (translates as ‘The Cherries of Freedom’) met a less favorable response. In this work he had reflected his own actions during the Nazi Regime until his desertion in 1944. To his audience, the memory of the Third Reich and one’s own doing was still far too fresh.

 

The question of whether or not the individual can decide freely is a central theme of the work of this strident author who was also the founder of the ‘Group 47’. To this day, Alfred Andersch is considered one of the most important representatives of the Zero Hour literature of postwar Germany. Rich in symbols but formulated in an unpretentious language, ‘Sansibar oder der letzte Grund’ has become firmly established in the canon of educational schoolbook literature. It serves as a lesson to increase consciousness – for what humanity really means in the face of terror, for what you cannot buy with money.