16 thoughts on “The Dead Girls’ Class Trip (Selected Stories) by Anna Seghers


    “…you could see a mirror image of the bridge in the brown water under the bridge span, as well as indistinct glints of the young boys who had drowned the previous summer while playing this game still climbing nimbly around between its piers.”

    This utterly consuming tale of this seven year old boy’s parallel death and life as a Zeno’s Paradox of time also tells of the unbearable stoicism of his parents’ close-ordered and unsatisfying marriage of yellow door-handle and geraniums, too small a dwelling house, attritionally unsatisfying marriage beyond their single moment of being sweethearts.
    Another parallel exists between the state of this marriage and the attritional state of the boy’s literally ‘going’ to die, going towards some endlessly ungraspable catharsis of the original dive from the bridge — only endless, though, until the potential hindsight of a Lordly One of Despair that I feel his father might grow into while looking at his son’s grave…
    In fact, this story seems to be a parallel, too, to Daphne du Maurier’s story ‘The Lordly Ones’, whereby the boy, it is implied, yearns to suckle on his mother’s breast (just as the neuro-diverse boy was allowed to suckle a new golden mother in the du Maurier), with Jans, here, this seven year old boy, being indeed allowed to watch a new baby sister — while in his attritional, almost forgettable state of existence — being thus suckled…
    … and his mother yearning to allow her son to suckle her, too?

    Until, at the catharsis, “; he forgot his mother and her breast;”
    “His little soul was too small a dwelling to house this large guest.”


    “The red zigzags of the screams were by now scarred over in the courtyard.”

    A highly poignant novella of this impoverished family in an area where a street called Betzelsgasse, if not Betelgeuse, existed. Not a supernova, indeed, but still, a creative deadpan listing, in delicately felt prose, of sun motes, other lights, colours, cracks, grates, and sounds of scraping plates, and more, all of which set the setting of young Marie who did woolcraft and knitwear for meagre money, till the orders ran out. And a story of her mother and father, her elder sister with her boyfriend obsessed with touching this sister’s breast, and two younger brothers. All perfectly characterised. One small brother, like Jans, in sexual touch with his mother at bathtime… We follow the audit trail of each of them, comings and goings, with ups but mainly downs, towards eventual death. With walls almost prehensilely constricting. Not forgetting the father’s relationship with his unsympathetic business partner and the latter’s shiny letter scale that Marie’s father had an impulse to use as a weapon, I infer. A tiny dot between the eyes toward red spots of sunlight. Cracks to slip through, grates to force food through and be punished for. Tears in faces as well as tears in wallpaper. Mother scrubbing through the floor. Another bridge for boys to play on. Nostrils full of bread. Scenes at railway station and cinema to be cherished. Rooms that need anchoring. Furniture that gets an upper hand. An unfathomable wilderness of colours. Time condensing and running down the walls in pearls.
    A tactile pointillism.

    “…she realized that the darkness was light and soft; she was the one who was as heavy as lead.”


    “Fold your hands!”

    A short jab of prose pain from 1933 Germany, as those taken by the SA Troop, those who were originally in the narrator’s cell …. and the Zieglers from the neighbouring cell— literally! Tortured to recite parrot-fashion the eponymous prayer, except one of them rebels by a different incantation, and he is tortured till his voice is as faraway as possible, but we can still hear him… stories have thin walls between them, I guess.


    All had been changed in this short short to an indelibly empty square of a once full one.
    A strangely careless disguise, by Marie’s mother and grandmother, of her father’s vanishment in 1934…
    Emptiness of short even blank stories can convey more than lengthy full ones?


    “They lamented his death, and the fact that such a fellow had ever existed.”

    From the synergy, as well as the opposition, between two thieves, the first being Woynok as an independent solitary thief and the other Gruschek as leader of a band of thieves, amid the potential infinitudes of forests, snow, storm, climate change and wolves, I learnt that my old age is a deception. I shall thus never die, having now just read, by the skin of my teeth, this work, its ‘human ladder’ in an equal synergy with, as well as opposition to, what I learned elsewhere (link) recently about the ladder’s inhuman version.
    A miraculous work that no amount of scrying or parsing or construing by me can do justice to its honest-to-goodness divisiveness of polarities and its binding infinitudes or gestalts of meaning. Of the ‘square’, too?


    Like Woynok, and Jans, and ‘the square’, et al, a means to defy death…. That each bit of a whole is intrinsic to the whole’s gestalt and thus in retrocausation recreates the bit itself even if that bit would have otherwise died? Hence, my gestalt real-time reviewing justified at least by hindsight? By its scars, and sorrows, as well as trust in the whole will last successfully? I always have faith that the book I was chosen to choose to read will end up proving what this actual Seghers book is proving, too. Each story a segue into the next, towards everlasting gestalt.

    “Whenever fear overwhelmed me, I said to myself, ‘Come now, that’s impossible, you can’t be having any doubt that the whole thing won’t end well. You certainly can’t doubt that.’”


    On the surface — a tale of hunters telling tales, hunters young and old, able bodied and disabled, telling of their life-changing or fateful, if not fatal, sight of a bewitching goddess or washerwoman, perhaps even the inn’s new servant girl who happens to be listening to their tales round the smoky fire…. Telling of vital forests and cities, peaks and vales, in their lives. And deep down — tantalisingly resonating with the context of this book so far, as if still autonomous as a work of living literature, beyond the control of its otherwise dead author… thus effectively bringing the author alive again in hindsight… running the race of Zeno’s Paradox?
    An inn with its original carved door. And reflections in shiny pot lids. Watchmen and walls and towers. Deceptive mazes of valleys and forests and one’s own home villages, and cities with white seeds sometimes maintained more naturalness than forestland …of homesickness and more.

    “Afterward you still think: Yes, that was worth it. Yes, that was something I was prepared to give up my life for.”

    “In a terrible way, my life had begun anew from the moment of the accident.”

    “Even though he was probably the same age as the old hunter, he looked as if he were only just past middle age, maybe because his life span was set to be longer.”

    “After all, you usually lose your patience first, then your faith, and then the thing itself.”

    “It’s a superstitious belief that you can reach the gods by calling on them. Actually, they come when you forget about them.”

  8. Pingback: “After all, you usually lose your patience first, then your faith, and then the thing itself.” | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


    “Yet the tree, already old and mighty back then, continued to rustle and flourish, even as the knight inside it gasped, wept, prayed, and died.”

    Two short fables of man’s interaction with trees, involving man’s death, including the prophet Isaiah’s, but followed by a third fable where the tree provides a fixed and permanent bed for Odysseus to sleep in. I don’t know how, but the gestalt of all three is perfect for this whole book so far.
    Books generally are made from trees (except for those spiritless ebooks!)

    • Every book has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.” —from ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


    “The fact is that Hitler has occupied the world, and no words or platitudes can change that.”

    Paris under the heel of the Nazis, and the story of the appeasements, submissions and counterintuitive rebellions involved, concerning certain characters, a married couple adopting a child as part of the vicious or virtuous circle that is life and death. A worm ouroboros where the wife does the right thing while the husband does, for himself, the wrong thing but it turns out to be the same right thing that the wife has already done…
    Seems to fit this book’s gestalt perfectly, in that light.


    “Showing pity for the enemy is treason.”

    True, if the enemy is death. As this book often attests.
    But, meanwhile, this story is a tellingly gratuitous shaft of light upon such a statement, this shaft of a man’s history, a descriptive slice of life for its own sake, a slice from boyhood to being a member of the SS — a history, with the context of world events, his family background and his own developing personality, but a history also containing one (if only one) lightning shaft of regret in pitiful connection to another’s heart that he has destroyed. So, at least we know he was redeemable? Hitler himself, too?


    “…she would remember, as clearly as I do now, the little velvet ribbon in her hair and the white-walled inn and the sunny garden by the Rhine and the boys arriving just as the girls were leaving.”

    Memory as palimpsest for memory, this is a German girl’s proto-Proustian memory of a class trip whereby the various girls, who are now engagingly described in their future lives with the men they married or didn’t marry, were taken from the sunny garden just as the boys, their would-be sweethearts, arrived in the river-boat.

    Idyllic, with seesaws, tugged braids and a teacher with a huge crucifix in her cleavage and a duck-walk. But the ‘would-be’ palimpsest — of two future world wars, and the Nazi regime, and these once bosom friends falling out over fealty to the swastika et al — somehow grants them this book’s poignancy of life eternally. For example, the ‘narrator’, I infer, avoids her own death by the now constructive dream co-vividness of cacti and mountains elsewhere, a place where she would have ended up in older age. This genuine masterpiece should be required reading for all would-be inhabitant dreamers of the eternities future-projected by such literature — somehow miraculously creating our personal eternities for real by transcending the lethal fate of the planet where we once lived.

  13. Pingback: Proto-Proustian | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  14. Pingback: ST. LUCY’S HOME FOR GIRLS RAISED BY WOLVES: Karen Russell | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

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