May 7, 2021 | Rome, Italy

The Emigrants

By | 2018-03-21T18:27:22+01:00 March 1st, 2004|Recent Reviews|

By W.G. Sebald, translated from the German by Michael Hulse

Vintage, 1992 (1996). 237 pages.

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.

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