The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald

Much like the others I’ve read by this author, this book deals heavily with memory, loss, and–more directly than the others–the holocaust. 

The narrator recounts his experiences with four characters, in four sections of the book. Each character is an emigrant from Germany, and each, in some way, seems to want to forget some aspect of their life. 

What struck me most about this book was the vivid reality of these four characters, not only in what was described, but in what was left unknown. The unknowable insides of the minds of others was palpable, and made this seem more like a non-fiction book than any of his other books–though they all have this effect to some extent. 

The addition of the pictures, an occurrence in all books of Sebald’s I’ve yet read, had a very strong effect. I always find myself wondering about the lives of the people in old pictures. In this book, like his others, we are shown old pictures of people, then explained who they are and told something about their life. The pictures add a strong sense of realism, and also surrealism. A sort of deep, vertigo type feeling that I often get when thinking about the past, and the vast unknown world of other people.  

The end did not have the stunning effect that the previous two books I read (Rings of Saturn and Vertigo) It did not completely shift the whole idea I had of the book in the final pages. But, such a feat is not necessary for an amazing read. (and of course it’s very possible I missed some subtlety.) 

Reading these three books has been eye-opening as to how far I have to go as a writer. It’s almost overwhelming, knowing that the heights I will never reach are even higher than I ever supposed. I must learn to be okay knowing that my peak will only be at the base of someone else’s mountain. 

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