TRANSPORT 7-41-R by T. Degens
Kirkus Star


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Anyone familiar with post-war German literature will recognize this small closed world of demoralized guilt-implicated survivors and the grotesque premise which eventually mutates into a test of moral innocence. Here, in this relatively gentle variation on the theme, a freight train load of refugees -- or, more often putative refugees -- are being repatriated from East Germany to Cologne in 1946. The variously unattractive group includes a fat woman who swallows hard-boiled eggs whole in front of her hungry companions, a sycophantic former captain and the heroine -- a tough, resourceful thirteen year-old whose family no longer has room for her. Also on board are Mr. Lauritzen, an ancient grocer, and his wheelchair-bound wife who dies en route after making her husband promise to return her to Cologne for burial. The rest turns into a conspiracy between Mr. Lauritzen and the girl, both nearly starving, to keep themselves fed and get the fast stiffening corpse safely across Germany and past the legions of transport guards, border officials and suspicious fellow travelers. The unsentimental gift who has seen her share of violence already views the dead Mrs. Lauritzen as a pure logistical problem and her ability to see the situation as more funny than pathetic rubs off on the reader. Food on the other hand is an emotional, ultimately revolutionary topic and eventually Mr. Lauritzen's weakened condition drives her to commit her first theft, of two boiled potatoes and an unguarded pork chop. Petty greed and selfish shortsightness -- more than the starker forms of cruelty -- are the chief targets here; the girl, for all her disclaimers, is an intense idealist and the goal -- macabre as it is -- becomes a last opportunity for loyalty and devotion in a situation where no more meaningful gestures are possible. It makes perfect sense that under the circumstances a lapful of hardboiled eggs is more shocking than a dead old lady, and every page holds a new, unforeseeable challenge -- sunny and sad by turns, but always suspenseful.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1974
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Viking