Where to start: WG Sebald | Wrote

German writer WG Sebald It is named regularly One of the most influential writers in recent decades. He referred to his genre-defying books as prose novels—not quite novels, not quite autobiographical, and not quite—not quite.Fantasy – but with elements from everyone. They examined loss, exile, memory, and trauma, they? I still feel important today. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Spald Immigrant writers, journalist, and doctoral candidate Sandra Horrant suggests where these newcomers at Sebald should start.


entry point

Spald’s first work to reach English readers, The Immigrants, is a collection of four short stories. It was published in German in 1992, and its English translation was released by Michael Hulse in 1996. Sebald biographer Carol Unger calls it “Sebald’s book.” par excellence“.

As with his other texts, we’re not entirely sure what is “real” and what Sebald invented here. His central themes – including loss, memory, displacement, and the consequences of relentless trauma – reappear in all of his work, and the text is punctuated by black and white images, another distinguishing feature.

Angier first read The Expat when asked to review it, writing, “When I shut down the cover of the last story late that night, I was like a person in love—exhilarated.” It would be an exaggeration to call the stories uplifting; What they are, though, is sad, heartbreaking and beautifully written.


Immigrants by W.G. Sebald.
Immigrants by W.G. Sebald. Photo: vintage

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Austerlitz tells the story of Jack Austerlitz, an academic who has an epiphany in a waiting room at London’s Liverpool Street station, admitting that this is where he first arrived in Britain as a young boy, traveling on Kindertransport.

It is a period when memory has faded, and revealing the rest of his history – his parents’ destinies, his hometown, his mother tongue – requires careful excavation. On the other hand, this may be a straightforward important story, but Sebald does things differently, subtly, and creates a page-turner despite the long passages where very little seems to happen.

With long, curvy sentences and reported speech, it is written (and translated into English by the Reverend Anthea Bell) with poetry and a sensitivity that earns qualities of Sebald’s prose such as contemplation, contemplation and contemplation.


It is worth persevering

Vertigo, first published in German in 1990 and English in 1999 (Hulse translation), began with an autobiography by Marie-Henri Bell, the real name of the French realist writer Stendhal. Brief but oddly detailed, it illustrates Pelly’s role in the Napoleonic Wars and examines his mental and physical ailments, including genital infection and symptoms of syphilis: “Difficulties in swallowing, swellings in the armpits, and pains in atrophy of the testicles. [which] Especially annoying.”

Among these accounts, there are moments of transcendence – the “longing for love” is felt by Pelly in Italy in the form of “a curious lightness like he had never known”; Hiking in the Lombardy Mountains where “only larks can be heard as they rise to the sky”. If you can get past the finer (often unpleasant) details, stark contrasts between pain and beauty are part of this stunning prose that Sebald does so well.

W.G. Sebald.
W.G. Sebald. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

the person who makes mistakes

Sebald’s first literary work was After Nature, a book-length prose poem published in German in 1988, translated by Michael Hamburger into English and published in 2002, a year after Sebald’s death. It talks about “themes of migration, stillness and remembrance that were his recurring concerns,” Andrew Motion wrote in the preface. It is perhaps one of the Complements – along with his collections of essays, a place in the country and in the natural history of the devastation.


The one you want your friends to read

Sometimes you throw newly beloved books at friends because of the characters they’re going to get to know, or the plot that makes you reeling. The desire to share The Rings of Saturn is quite strong, but it’s hard to explain exactly Why They must read it.

On the face of it, it is not easy to sell them; The narrator (who may or may not be Spald himself) embarks on a stroll along the Suffolk coast “in the hope of dispelling the void” that occurred after completing a “long period of work”. Part it is about travel, and part it is about wandering through the narrator’s vast, turbulent, disturbing landscape of thoughts, and, as Robert McCrum said, “A strange and profound response to the horrors of historyCurvy prose takes on exotic and diverse themes such as “The Natural History of Herring,” “The Battle of Lonely Bay,” and “The Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi.”

Accompanied again by those black and white photographs (the first showing only an uninspired glass window and a “colorless speck of sky”), memories, history, and echoes of shock flow onto the page, leading the reader along a strange path and past many of the horrific scenes that emerge from the book. He blinked and desperate to talk to someone else who also saw what I saw. Maybe just give them the book, and save the conversations for later.