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The Emigrants
Cover of The Emigrants
The Emigrants
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A masterwork of W. G. Sebald, now with a gorgeous new cover by the famed designer Peter Mendelsund

The four long narratives in The Emigrants appear at first to be the straightforward biographies of four Germans in exile. Sebald reconstructs the lives of a painter, a doctor, an elementary-school teacher, and Great Uncle Ambrose. Following (literally) in their footsteps, the narrator retraces routes of exile which lead from Lithuania to London, from Munich to Manchester, from the South German provinces to Switzerland, France, New York, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Along with memories, documents, and diaries of the Holocaust, he collects photographs—the enigmatic snapshots which stud The Emigrants and bring to mind family photo albums. Sebald combines precise documentary with fictional motifs, and as he puts the question to realism, the four stories merge into one unfathomable requiem.

A masterwork of W. G. Sebald, now with a gorgeous new cover by the famed designer Peter Mendelsund

The four long narratives in The Emigrants appear at first to be the straightforward biographies of four Germans in exile. Sebald reconstructs the lives of a painter, a doctor, an elementary-school teacher, and Great Uncle Ambrose. Following (literally) in their footsteps, the narrator retraces routes of exile which lead from Lithuania to London, from Munich to Manchester, from the South German provinces to Switzerland, France, New York, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Along with memories, documents, and diaries of the Holocaust, he collects photographs—the enigmatic snapshots which stud The Emigrants and bring to mind family photo albums. Sebald combines precise documentary with fictional motifs, and as he puts the question to realism, the four stories merge into one unfathomable requiem.
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About the Author-
  • W. G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and died in 2001. He is theauthor of The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, Austerlitz,After Nature, On the Natural History of Destruction, Unrecounted and Campo Santo.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 2, 1996
    Composed of four compelling portraits of Jewish emigres whose lives have been scarred by exile, dislocation and persecution, this unusual work of fiction is pervaded by a sensibility and a degree of circumstantial detail so authentic that it could pass for historical documentation. That Sebald has invested his fictional creations with both dignity and pathos is a mark of his achievement here. A narrator provides perspective on the lives he relates. Retired surgeon Henry Selwyn was born Hersch Seweryn and changed his name after arrival in England; his disclosure of his true origins to his Swiss wife causes an irreparable rift in their marriage and an essential loss of identity in the now aimless man. Paul Bereyter, fired from his post as schoolteacher in Germany because he is one-quarter Jewish, serves six years in the Germany army and is haunted by the bestial violence he witnesses. Ambros Adelwarth escapes Germany, finally settling in the U.S. Concealing his traumas from family members, he commits himself to a sanitarium at age 67 and undergoes electroshock therapy, longing for extinction. German-born artist Max Ferber, a recluse in Manchester, England, suffers claustrophobia stemming from the deportation and murder of his parents by Nazis. Though none of the protagonists is thrown into a concentration camp, they are all haunted by the effects of the Holocaust. Two of them eventually commit suicide, all suffer shame and guilt, claustrophobia and depression. Photographs interwoven with the restrained text add to the cumulative effect, which is that of an eerie memento. Long after the Nazis have fallen, these exiled individuals endure existential agony and emotional breakdowns. German novelist and literary scholar Sebald, who has lived in England since 1970, won the Berlin Literature Prize for this remarkable work.

  • Richard Eder;The New York Times A masterpiece.
  • The New York Times Book Review A writer of almost unclassifiable originality, but whose voice we recognize as indispensable and central to our time.
  • The New York Times Most writers, even good ones, write of what can be written. The very greates write of what cannot be written. I think of Akhmatova and Primo Levi, for example, and of W.G. Sebald.
  • Thomas McGonigle;Chicago Tribune The Emigrants is that terrifyingly rare and wonderful thing: a unique masterpiece...
  • The New York Review of Books Tragic, stunningly beautiful, strange and haunting. The secret of Sebald's appeal is that he saw himself in what now seems almost an old-fashioned way as a voice of conscience, someone who remembers injustice, who speaks for those who can no longer speak.
  • Susan Sontag An astonishing masterpiece — perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read.
  • Susan Sontag W.G. Sebald has written an astonishing masterpiece: it seems perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read. Bewitching in its subtlety, sublime in its directness and in the grandeur of its subject. The Emigrants is an irresistable book.
  • Michael Dirda;The Washington Post If you are completely new to Sebald, you should probably start with his early masterpiece, The Emigrants.
  • The Washington Post W. G. Sebald's [early death is] much lamented by admirers of his too few books, chiefly The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, and Austerlitz. Readers of these four essay-fictions know that Sebald exemplified the best kind of cosmopolitan literary intelligence - humane, digressive, deeply erudite, unassuming and tinged with melancholy. The last quality is particularly important, for if one had to characterize Sebald's ethos - the mood he generates on the page, the themes that haunt him - one could hardly do better than borrow the title of the famous essay by Freud: 'Mourning and Melancholy.'
  • Anthony Lane;New Yorker Sebald is a rare and elusive species... But still he is an easy read, just as Kafka is... He is an addiction, and, once button-holed by his books, you have neither the wish nor the will to tear yourself away.
  • The New York Times Book Review A writer whose work belongs on the high shelf alongside that of Kafka, Borges, and Proust.
  • Richard Eder;The New York Times Book Review Sebald stands with Primo Levi as the prime speaker of the Holocaust and, with him, the prime contradiction of Adorno's dictum that after it, there can be no art.
  • Anthony Lane;The New Yorker Sebald is a rare and elusive species, but still, he is an easy read, just as Kafka is. He is an addiction, and once buttonholed by his books, you have neither the wish nor the will to tear yourself away.
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