Sunday, July 12, 2015
The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
Monologues of fugitives from a vanished world
This book is composed of the stories of four citizens from middle Europe. Some fled, once the Nazis materialized, in order to escape the utter destruction of their world. Others did not. Here the Holocaust is never referred to directly, only obliquely, but the void is made painfully present behind the dreamy weird atmospheric prose and the encyclopedic details of unusual objects. Certain motifs are repeated: Suicides, ski vacations, a man running around with a butterfly net.
Austerlitz was better, I think, more haunting, more skillful. This book grew repetitive, though the warp and woof of the various stories was fascinating – the history of the doomed Manchester seaport, the Grunewald altarpiece. Like Austerlitz, the creepy photographs created a haunting effect. The languid, odd and hypnotic prose style, and its focus on homey details, the detritus of human existence, brings to life a world of unrelievable sadness.