Once celebrated as the author of the bestselling antifascist novel The Seventh Cross, Anna Seghers was largely forgotten within Anglo-American letters during the Cold War era. The release of archival materials since 1990 has made possible Helen Fehervary's critical reassessment of Seghers's life and work, one that challenges formerly held assumptions about the Cold War.
Fehervary presents a fascinating portrait of Seghers, a German Jewish writer whose inherently political prose is imbued with traditions of fairy tale, biblical legend, and myth. Seeking to uncover the intellectual and artistic sources of this "mythic world" Fehervary situates Seghers's legacy within the larger context of Central European intellectual history. This is no journey into the obscure, for the people with whom Anna Seghers shared her artistic and intellectual life were truly extraordinary. Seghers was a member of the Budapest Sunday Circle (along with Georg Lukács, Karl Mannheim, and her husband, László Radványi); a lifelong friend of Bertolt Brecht; and a mentor to Heiner Müller and Christa Wolf. She also had close ties to Walter Benjamin in exile.
In order to do justice to the complexities inherent in Seghers's life and to the multilayered texture of her work—neither of which can be reduced to a definitive chronological or teleological schema—Fehervary eschews the more familiar conventions of biography and instead presents a series of thematically conceived chapters. Fehervary's prodigious research relies on the over nine thousand volumes in Seghers's library; on interviews with contemporaries, family, and friends; and on heretofore unknown Hungarian texts and manuscripts.
This engaging and accessible book raises large questions—about German history, modernism, Central and East European Jewry, Stalinism, the Holocaust—that go far beyond the life and work of an individual writer, questions so crucial to the twentieth century that they continue to preoccupy writers and readers today.