Seemingly about German exiles, this book is really an extraordinary family album of the human condition. Sebald assembles stories, photographs and anecdotes whose purpose is to give dislocation a tangible dimension.
His cast-offs — a ghostly cast of partial fictions — exist to jar memory, which is Sebald’s foothold into character. Thus, he collects “real” paraphernalia of the pre- and post-war experience and conducts digressions on twill gloves and eczema, ocean liners and skyscrapers, cataracts and Constantinople, Kristallnacht and lost love.
It seems desultory until it hits you: he is the voice of conscience, vast and painstaking. Here’s a novel of many little things whose whole reanimates the century’s obliterated. Masterpiece is a timid word for the undertaking. Loving is better.