Zanzibar or the final reason

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Zanzibar or the final reason is a 1957 novel by the writer Alfred Andersch .


In the autumn of 1937, the communist functionary Gregor came to the small Baltic port town of Rerik on an assignment to do illegal political work and Judith, a Jew, who was on the run due to the Nuremberg race laws . In this place, their fate is linked to that of the fisherman Knudsen and his cabin boys as well as the fate of Pastor Helander. The clergyman wants to save the wooden sculpture “Reading convent students”, which the National Socialists categorized as “ degenerate art ” and therefore threatened, and Knudsen is supposed to bring the figure to Sweden.

Gregor, Knudsen and the boy manage to rescue Judith and the wooden sculpture to Sweden, but do not take the opportunity to flee themselves, but return to Germany, facing an uncertain fate. The terminally ill Helander resists the arrest and thus deliberately leads to his shooting.


The sculpture reading monastery students in the Güstrow Gertrudenkapelle .

The narrative focuses on the actions and feelings of the threatened and persecuted group. The terror is only hinted personified by spies and officials, he is omnipresent and anonymous, so never about by the Nazis is mentioned, but only of "the other".

The title Zanzibar or the final reason , which in no small measure co-founded the success of the book and became proverbial, refers to a daydream of the boy, in which Zanzibar is less a concrete goal than the utopian place of a better future.

The “ Reading Klosterschüler ” is designed after a wooden sculpture by Ernst Barlach . The original Barlachs sculpture is around 1.15 meters tall and therefore cannot be transported as easily as described in the novel (on the back).

The Rerik of the novel bears traits of the cities Rerik and Wismar .

The figures

The six figures - five people and a sculpture (The reading monastery student) - typically represent a generation, social class or worldview. The solidarity of the people in times of terror points in retrospect to the possibility of bundling all progressive forces, which, however, did not come about to prevent National Socialism.

Gregor . Gregor is the young, intellectual communist who in the long run - and especially after the defeat - cannot place unconditional trust in a central committee: "Everything has to be re-examined ..." He gives his order to reorganize the resistance of the KPD in Rerik in favor of the self-imposed task of protecting Judith and the wooden sculpture from National Socialist persecution. From the successful action he drew the courage to refuse the security of his own person and to stay in Germany.

Knudsen . As a fisherman, Heinrich Knudsen is the ultimate worker. He is, as it were, a communist by nature; Theory and ideology as represented by Gregor do not satisfy him. Knudsen's conceptions and views are rooted in the earth and local, he has to and wants to get along with the people he lives with. He thinks slowly and clings to the results of his deliberations. A nicer form of his stubbornness is his loyalty to his wife Bertha; as a debilitant she is in mortal danger among the new rulers, but Knudsen, who has the opportunity to flee at any time, will not let her down.

The boy . Knudsen's cabin boy is a fifteen-year-old who knows best what he doesn't want: to be like the grown-ups, to perish in a town like Rerik. He can understand his father well, who found death in the open sea, drunk, as people say, but the boy interprets his death as an attempt to escape. The involvement in the rescue of Judith and the convent pupil suits his thirst for adventure; He does not associate conscious resistance against "the others" with it. He lets the opportunity to flee to Sweden pass by, which is a sign that a change, a process of maturation, is taking place in the boy in the course of the plot of the novel. In this way, the boy's personality changes from being irresponsible and dreamy as a child to a young adult who is ready to accept his social status and take on responsibility.

Helander . Pastor Helander is the typical citizen, World War II veteran, conservative and German national ; As a Protestant, he tends to research conscience, permanent crisis of faith and rigorous ethical judgments. He castigates the attitude of the official church in the Third Reich: “The shame of the church was immeasurable.” His aversion to National Socialism is less politically motivated than it is due to general conceptions of decency and justice.

Judith . Judith Levin is the typical, well-protected daughter from the “better circles”, spoiled and inexperienced in life. With the National Socialist persecution of the Jews and her mother's suicide, a world collapses for her. Surrounded by imagined, potential and actual enemies, she instinctively finds trustworthy fellow sufferers in Gregor, Knudsen and Helander. Her escape via Rerik to Sweden is at the same time her entry into the reality of life.

Bronze sculpture The Book Reader (1936) in the Ernst-Barlach-Haus

The "reading monastery student". Bertolt Brecht wrote about a similar work by Barlach, the “book reader”: “A seated man, leaning forward, holding a book in heavy hands. He reads curiously, confidently, critically. He is clearly looking for solutions to pressing problems in the book. Goebbels would probably have called him an 'intelligent beast'. I like the book reader better than Rodin's famous ' thinker ', who only shows the difficulty of thinking. Barlach's sculpture is more realistic, more concrete, unsymbolic. ”(B. Brecht, Gesammelte Werke , Volume 19, Frankfurt 1967, p. 514.)

The narrative means

The novel is divided into 37 chapters. The headline of each chapter is the name of one or more of the five main characters, which announces the constellation of characters that changes chapter by chapter. It follows the pattern of the boy - other person (or persons) - the boy - other person (or persons) etc. The structure of the novel is thus similar to the sequence of appearances in a play. The told time is 27 hours.

Typical for Andersch is the representation of the events from the perspective of the respective participants, also in their characteristic language, but not in first- person form , but in the personal narrative situation . It is noticeable with the boy that his thoughts are told in a so-called stream of consciousness : his thoughts are linked by associations . The language is adapted to the respective people, such as Judith, who speaks sophisticated German, and Knudsen, who speaks more colloquial language.

Andersch also takes from the perspective of the figures a symbolism that is as simple as it is impressive : the boy's daydream “Zanzibar”; the "writing on the wall" by Pastor Helander; Gregory's "Golden Shield of Tarasovka"; the "menacing towers" that seem to watch the refugees and resistance fighters; the “open sea”, which can mean freedom for everyone.


In contrast to Andersch's first, extremely controversial book The Cherries of Freedom , Zanzibar or the last reason was largely received positively. The book did not aim to describe and analyze National Socialism and its accomplices.

It must be taken into account that Andersch spoke to German readers in 1957 who knew the National Socialist terror from their own experience and mostly accompanied it as followers .

Sansibar was and is because of its conciliatory tendency and also because of its simplicity and, moreover, because of the boy’s identification figure, as particularly suitable reading for young readers.

Hendrik Werner wrote in the Berliner Morgenpost that Sansibar was Andersch's "probably the most radical fiction opinion". “The text, written with a lot of emphasis and empathy , is by no means as template-like as political parables by Bertolt Brecht , Max Frisch and Peter Weiss , despite its notable didactic character , ” says Werner and ends after a brief summary and interpretation: “Naturally, it was poetic formulated a way out of a bundling of all democratic and art-loving forces from parts of the criticism as woodcut-like and condemned. That's legitimate. How it is also legitimate to read the touching allegory [...] as the appearance of a society that no longer has to be afraid of the brown man. "


radio play

Audio book


Stage work


  • Alfons Bühlmann: On the fascination of freedom . Berlin 1973.
  • Kai Metzger : Reading easy: Alfred Andersch, “Sansibar or the last reason” . Ernst Klett, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-12-928091-X .
  • Friedhelm Niggemeier: Encounters: Alfred Andersch and Ernst Barlach - "Sansibar or the last reason" and "The monastery student who reads" . Book on Demand, Norderstedt 2010, ISBN 978-3-8391-7071-7 .
  • Friedhelm Niggemeier: Alfred Andersch: Sansibar or the last reason. Materials and suggestions for work. Schroedel-Verlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-507-47803-9 .
  • Reiner Poppe: Alfred Andersch: "Sansibar or the last reason". (= King's explanations and materials. Volume 420). Bange-Verlag, Hollfeld 2004, ISBN 3-8044-1802-3 .
  • Walter Hinderer: Between politics and aesthetics, Alfred Anderschs, Sansibar or the final reason. In: Novels of the 20th Century. Volume 2, (= RUB . No. 8809). Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-008809-7 , pp. 59-94.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hendrik Werner: Confrontation of the Generations. Alfred Andersch revives a touching aesthetic of resistance in the novel “Sansibar or the last reason” . In: Berliner Morgenpost . August 18, 2007.