The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, trans. Philip Boehm. (Pushkin Press)
How to talk about this book? Set in November 1938 in the few days after Kristallnacht it follows Otto Silbermann as he travels around Germany looking for peace and an escape route.
The tension mounts with each journey Otto takes as he frantically tries to stay a free man despite being Jewish. At times it feels more of a roller coaster than a succession of train journeys made by Otto as he crisscrosses Germany.
What is so interesting about this book is that Boschwitz wrote the book in the weeks just after Kristallnacnt and it is an immediate response to the events that saw German Jews villified, arrested and finally imprisoned in concentration camps.
To say I enjoyed the book is impossible - mainly because of the subject - but it was utterly compelling and I had my heart in my mouth repeatedly. It doesn't have a neat ending, and many story threads are left dangling but that is how it has to be - it is a contemporary response to the events of 1938. Otto won't know how his story ends and thus it is right that we don't - that we have to use our imaginations.
The tight focus on Otto took some getting used to as I started the book, I wanted to know more about the supporting characters that we meet. By the end however this tunnel vision worked for me as it conveyed the fear, paranoia and claustrophobia of what life in Germany must have been like for a Jew in 1938.
Boschwitiz's own story is no less compelling and shocking than Otto's and I do urge you to give this book a go if you come across it, so very different than other novels I've read set around this time.
Many thanks to Norfolk Libraries for buying the book after I mentioned it.