Saturday, December 5, 2009

a general impression of W.G. Sebald's THE EMIGRANTS

I recently read this novel for the third time. I have read masterpieces. This is a masterpiece. My first reading left me impressed. My second reading affected me even more. This last reading bowled me over – I realized that Sebald deserves a rare seat among the company of literary geniuses.

The narrator who is and is not Sebald probes the repressed biographies of four displaced Jews – emigrants. His subtle tracing of the emotional scars of these main characters is complemented by the shadings of other wounded souls who drift into the narrative...into the memories of those main characters.

Anti-Semitism (who can explain to me that psychosis?) at the end of the 19th century and then during the madness of the Holocaust forms the harsh background for these penetrating glimpses into human desolation. Not exactly light reading. But very necessary reading.

Sebald approaches his theme obliquely and with understatement, which are the methods of a master. The impact of his overall story gains force through a paradoxical subtlety. Poignancy and hard truth leak into the narrative imperceptibly. And we are swept along unawares on currents the strength of which we little suspect.

Until tears pronounce our unspoken verdict on what has been wrought in us.

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