A Life Spent Searching – the Travels and Writing of Annemarie Schwarzenbach

It’s mainly the reason why every October I write about all the books I’ve read in the last year, that some remain in my thoughts. Isabel Cole’s translation of Annamarie Schwarzenbach’s All Roads are Open is one of these, as well as having the kind of attention to typography, layout, and design that … well, makes me less likely to spill a late-night snack in bed over.

Which is to say, it’s already near the top of everything I’ve read in the last six months. I also read Ella Maillart’s The Cruel Way and Vita Sackville-West’s Twelve Days in Persia as a result, and Annamarie makes them both read like spoilt upper-class nobs whose only talent is the distinct whiff of colonial racism – I kept thinking if I was traveling with them I’d be obliged to leave them stranded and be off with their car and money because that’s all they’re good for. Perhaps being hooked on heroin gave Annamarie an empathy absent in these others; it did wonders for William Burroughs also. At very least, her translation into english adds a great deal to 20th century Central Asia writing.

25 April, 2012
Dialogue Books
Schönleinstraße 31
Berlin, Germany

RSVP is required: events@dialoguebooks.org

Journalist, novelist, antifascist, archaeologist, world traveler, the Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908-1942) became a European cult figure following her rediscovery in the 1990s. At long last, her works are also appearing in English via Seagull Books.

To celebrate, join Dialogue Books as we host Alexis Schwarzenbach, the writer’s grandnephew and the leading expert on her life and work. He and Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s translators Lucy Renner Jones and Isabel Fargo Cole will also read from a selection of her works suggesting the breadth of her concerns and creativity. Lyric Novella is the tale of a young “man’s” love for a nightclub singer in decadent Weimar-era Berlin, while Death in Persia is a more open exploration of lesbian love and existential anguish against the background of 1930’s Teheran, and All the Roads Are Open is an account of Schwarzenbach’s epic journey in a Ford from Switzerland to Afghanistan on the eve of World War II.


Annemarie Schwarzenbach, born in 1908 to one of Switzerland’s most prominent families, published her first novel at the age of 23. Her friends Klaus and Erika Mann introduced her to artistic circles, and she scandalized her conservative family by living an openly lesbian lifestyle and supporting leftwing political causes. From 1933 to 1941 she took numerous trips in Europe, the USSR, the United States, the Near East and Africa as a photojournalist covering social and political issues, while also publishing novels and short fiction. After the outbreak of World War II she sought ways to take political action, helping the Manns’ anti-Fascist efforts, but increasingly succumbed to depression and drug addiction.

Annemarie Schwarzenbach died in 1942 in Switzerland following a bicycle accident.