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The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald
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The Emigrants (1992)

by W. G. Sebald, W. G. Sebald

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (23)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Need to add a shelf "Books I Fail to Appreciate Proving I'm a Cretin". I didn't find this one horrible. It felt like eavesdropping on grownups when you're little. My curiosity was piqued but my attention was not easily sustained. I could sense importance and relevance, but it was quickly pocketed away in my subconscious.
  rosechimera | Mar 16, 2018 |
Need to add a shelf "Books I Fail to Appreciate Proving I'm a Cretin". I didn't find this one horrible. It felt like eavesdropping on grownups when you're little. My curiosity was piqued but my attention was not easily sustained. I could sense importance and relevance, but it was quickly pocketed away in my subconscious.
  rosechimera | Mar 16, 2018 |
This is a quietly affecting book that takes a subtle look at the effect of the Holocaust on the lives and descendants of four Jewish men who emigrated away from Germany at various points of the 20th century.

The book is divided into four stories told from the point of view of a narrator who has some sort of a connection with the emigrant in question. It reads like a hybrid of a memoir, historical account and stream of consciousness to me, which made it a little difficult for me to get to grips with what was happening - there are a few tangents and quite a few instances where the story switches between the perspective of different characters, but this is not made obvious.

Having said that, I admire the way the book explores the issues of memory, history, guilt and loneliness, but without hammering its points home by explicitly detailing the impact of the Holocaust on Jewish people and their families. I also enjoyed the descriptions of 1960s Manchester in the final section of the book, being a Manchester resident myself.

This isn't an easy read, but it's a worthwhile one if you're interested in the history of German Jews in the 20th century. ( )
  mooingzelda | Apr 26, 2017 |
History of four Jewish emigrant men from Germany is finely tuned.

For me, what is missing is what each man missed from his previous life in Germany.

Even after the horrors of World War II, they still wanted to return to the places and people the Nazis had obliterated.

It is difficult to feel connections, except for the sheer fear and depression from being totally uprooted
from what you thought was your homeland forever, when so little is revealed of what came before.

The life of Selwyn is the most quietly memorable. ( )
  m.belljackson | Jul 10, 2016 |
Is it fiction? Is it documentary literature? It’s a little bit of both and the impression of something hybrid is even strengthened by the many black-and-white photos that are inserted into the text without explanation or description. W.G. Sebald’s book “The Emigrants” (“Die Ausgewanderten”) is maybe the masterpiece of this author who came to England in 1966 and who spend the rest of his life as a lecturer and professor teaching at universities in England. His career as a prose writer (in his native German language) started when he was already in his mid-fourties.

“The Emigrants” is a collection of four long stories. Dr. Henry Selwyn, born as Hersch Seweryn in a shtetl near Grodno in Lithuania has come as a child to England and has against all odds made a career as a surgeon. The narrator, whose living conditions, opinions and favorite books coincide with W.G. Sebald gets to know Dr. Selwyn as a retired doctor leading a secluded life mainly in his garden when he is renting a flat in Dr. Selwyn’s house. A distanced friendship between the author and Dr. S. is developing and finally the doctor is telling the author the story of his life. The marriage of S. with a girl from Switzerland where he studied is not happy, maybe because S. kept his Jewish origin too long hidden from her, maybe because they just lost the love that was between them in the beginning. The happiest period of his life was according to S. his study times in Switzerland, when he used to go hiking with an old Swiss alpinist (who disappeared in the mountains one day). S. seems to be strangely detached from life, melancholic and living for his memories. After a return from a visit in France, the narrator receives the message of the suicide of S. Years later, during a sojourn in Switzerland, a local newspaper reports that the body of an alpinist was found that was missing since more than 70 years. It turns out to be the missing hiking partner of Dr. S. “And so they are ever returning to us, the dead. At times they come back from the ice more than seven decades later and are found at the edge of the moraine, a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots.” The story “Unexpected Reunion” (Unverhofftes Wiedersehen) by Johann Peter Hebel comes to mind, an author with which Sebald was familiar since early childhood because his maternal grandfather introduced him to this Alemannic writer.

Hebel plays also a role in the second story that was inspired by one of Sebald’s school teachers. In the story his name is Paul Bereyter, a born teacher who was able to turn every school lesson into something interesting and who was known for his unconventional but very inspiring way to teach. The narrator mentions for example that he introduced Hebel’s “Calendar Stories” to the pupils instead of the book lessons that he seemed not to consider as worthwhile for the children. Bereyter knew already in his youth that he wanted to become a teacher and nothing else and he succeeded to achieve his aim in the 1930s. But as a “quarter-Jew” (one grandfather was Jewish) he lost his position during the Nazi era. After the war (which he survived as a soldier) he was reinstalled as a schoolteacher, but something had changed within Paul, like everyone called him. “The seasons and the years came and went...and always...one was, as the crow flies, about 2,000 km away - but from where? - and day by day hour by hour, with every beat of the pulse, one lost more and more of one's qualities, became less comprehensible to oneself, increasingly abstract.” In his later years, Paul is haunted by memories. After his early retirement he is spending more and more time in France (where he lived for a few years as private teacher in the 1930s). There he makes friends with a Mme Landau which shares his interest in literature (Paul is approaching her after he sees her reading a Nabokov biography). From Mme Landau the narrator receives more information about the later years of Paul – also he was an emigrant, haunted by the ghosts of his past and by the fact that nobody in his small home town pretended that something had happened to the “disappeared” Jews even decades after the war was over.

Also the last two stories seem to be based on the lives of real persons. One is the story of a granduncle of Sebald who emigrated to America and who became a butler in a rich Jewish family. With the son of the family he traveled around the world short before WWI and they have obviously had a homosexual relationship. After the outbreak of a mental illness and early death of his friend, the authors granduncle devotes his life to the family of his friend until in his last years he is retiring to a mental hospital (without actually being ill in the classical sense – Robert Walser comes to mind), even wishing to be completely annihilated by an extreme form of electro shock therapy that was en vogue in the 1950s.

The last story, about the German-British painter Max Ferber (inspired by Frank Auerbach, whom Sebald met when he was a young student in Manchester – in the first German edition the name of the character was Max Aurach) doesn’t end with the death of the protagonist but since Ferber who came to England without his parents (who were killed in the Concentration Camps in the East) gives the narrator a diary of Ferber’s mother which she kept until her marriage, the narrator decides to undertake a study tour to Bad Kissingen, the home town of Ferber’s mother, which is not really a homecoming but a very disturbing experience. In the meantime, Max Ferber has made a name of himself in the art world, but he almost never leaves his studio in a dilapidated area of Manchester. Only once he goes on a visit to Colmar to see the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Gruenewald. The work of this strange man proves to be the intuition of the extreme power of pain in Ferber’s oeuvre.

Beside the already mentioned literary influences, the reader has also to think of Thomas Bernhard (especially when Sebald is describing his visit in Bad Kissingen in the last story), but also of Georges Perec and of Vladimir Nabokov. The passionate butterfly collector Nabokov is turning up in all four stories (in the last one even twice), and here Sebald is in my opinion doing a little bit too much. This “running gag” is not necessary for the dramaturgy of the stories and a bit of a cheap effect. But this is a minor flaw in this extraordinary collection of stories that has great qualities. Sebald is an excellent prose writer that is clearly inspired by Stifter or Gottfried Keller. The hybrid mixture of documentation, diary, photo novel and story seems to be the appropriate form to speak about the fate of these “emigrants” (Goethe’s “Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten” echoes also in the title of the book). And indirectly the book is also a book about the friendship of Sebald with his maternal grandfather because in all four stories friendship between a young and a much older man plays an important role (Sebald’s relation to his father seems to have been strained in the contrary).

The book received very high praise by literary critics and was also a big success on the German and international (especially English-speaking) bookmarket. Susan Sontag, Antonia Byatt, Michael Ondaatje or Salman Rushdie considered Sebald as one of the most important authors of our times. Very few critics, like the German novelist Georg Klein have voiced their reservations about Sebald’s books. Klein was speaking about Sebald’s "sweet melancholic masochism towards the past", which claims a "false intimacy with the dead". Sebald also seems not to have noticed the changes in Germany following 1968 (he visited the country very rarely after 1966) which made some of his statements regarding his home country a bit out of time and place and for my taste sometimes a bit too self-righteous. But be this as it may, Sebald was a very important and excellent writer and “The Emigrants” is definitely one of the great books about the historical and personal disasters of the 20th century and therefore I recommend it very strongly.

A very interesting essay about Sebald's biographical sources of his work by the American germanist Mark M. Anderson sheds additional light on "The Emigrants" and other works of Sebald: http://www.wgsebald.de/vaeter.html

See also my blog: www.mytwostotinki.com
( )
  Mytwostotinki | Dec 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
His book is tragic, stunningly beautiful, strange, and haunting. What makes it beautiful is the fastidious prose with its sad resigned rhythm—as appealing and hypnotic in Michael Hulse's English translation as in the German original; and also Sebald's wonderfully desolate landscapes and townscapes, where depression rises like mist from quite factual, unemphatic descriptions of people and things.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Gabriele Annan (pay site) (Nov 25, 1997)
 
Yet ''The Emigrants'' is not exactly a fictional memoir. Rather, it is the record of its narrator's investigations into the mysterious memories of others, preserved in stories that dramatize the sometimes treacherous enchantment of memory itself. In the shaping of these stories, Mr. Sebald's book reflects the irresistible retrospective circlings of our contemporary culture, even as he pursues a post-modern fictional inspection of the delicate relationship between memory and history.
 

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. G. Sebaldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sebald, W. G.main authorall editionsconfirmed
Hulse, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
And the last remnants memory destroys
There is mist that no eye can dispel
My field of corn is but a crop of tears
They come when night falls to search for life
Dedication
First words
At the end of september 1970, shortly before I took up my position in Norwich, I drove out to Hingham with Clara in search of somewhere to live.
Quotations
And so they are ever returning to us, the dead. At times they come back from the ice more than seven decades later and are found at the edge of the moraine, a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots.
Such endeavours to imagine his life and death did not, as I had to admit, bring me any closer to Paul except at best for brief emotional moments of the kind that seemed presumptuous to me. It is in order to avoid this sort of wrongful trespass that I have written down what I know of Paul Bereyter.
Always before our religion lessons, Paul would always top up to the brim the holy water stoup, embellished with a flaming Sacred Heart that was fixed by the door, using (I often saw him do it) the watering can with which he normally watered the geraniums. Because of this, the Beneficiary never managed to put the holy water bottle he always carried in his shiny black pigskin briefcase to use. He did not dare simply to tip out the water from the brimful stoup, and so, in his endeavour to account for the seemingly inexhaustible Sacred Heart, he was torn between his suspicion that systematic malice was involved and the intermittent hope that this was a sign from a Higher Place, perhaps indeed a miracle.
He was an amazingly good whistler; the sound he produced was marvellously rich, exactly like a flute's. And even when he was climbing a mountain, he would with apparent ease whistle whole runs and ties in connected sequence, not just anything, but fine, thoroughly composed passages and melodies that none of us had ever heard before, and which infallibly gave a wrench to my heart whenever, years later, I rediscovered them in a Bellini opera or a Brahms sonata.
It was not only music, though, that affected Paul in this way; indeed, at any time - in the middle of a lesson, at break, or on one of our outings - he might stop or sit down somewhere, alone and apart from us all, as if he, who was always in good spirits and seemed so cheerful, was in fact desolation itself.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0811213668, Paperback)

A meditation on memory and loss. Sebald re-creates the lives of four exiles--five if you include his oblique self-portrait--through their own accounts, others' recollections, and pictures and found objects. But he brings these men before our eyes only to make them fade away, "longing for extinction." Two were eventual suicides, another died in an asylum, the fourth still lived under a "poisonous canopy" more than 40 years after his parents' death in Nazi Germany.

Sebald's own longing is for communion. En route to Ithaca (the real upstate New York location but also the symbolic one), he comes to feel "like a travelling companion of my neighbor in the next lane." After the car speeds away--"the children pulling clownish faces out of the rear window--I felt deserted and desolate for a time." Sebald's narrative is purposely moth-holed (butterfly-ridden, actually--there's a recurring Nabokov-with-a-net type), an escape from the prison-house of realism. According to the author, his Uncle Ambros's increasingly improbable tales were the result of "an illness which causes lost memories to be replaced by fantastic inventions." Luckily for us, Sebald seems to have inherited the same syndrome. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:31 -0400)

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Four narratives weave history and fiction together as refugees from the Holocaust remember their experiences.

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