2008: 93. The Emigrants

“At the end of september 1970, shortly before I took up my position in Norwich, I drove out to Hingham with Clara in search of somewhere to live.”

The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald

At its most straightforward, The Emigrants is the story of four Germans who lived in exile (or rather four stories, since the book is composed of four long narratives).  Our unnamed narrator literally traces their lives, visiting places they knew, and telling what happened to them.  More so, it is the story of memory and loss, a book that truly captures the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust without really discussing either.  It is a phenomenal work.

I had previously read The Rings of Saturn and found it interesting, but not emotionally engaging, where as I basically sat down and read The Emigrants in one sitting.  Without being maudlin, or indeed, even sentimental, Sebald has written a heartbreaking book.  I recommend this to anyone trying to understand what happened in Europe during the war, or trying to understand loss at all. 

I also should say that it starts a little slowly - in my opinion, the first tale is the least interesting of the three (though still quite good), and my favorite is the story of Uncle Ambrose, who lived as a servant/lover to another wealthy Jew, and ended up dying in an insane asylum in Ithaca New York after his partner committed suicide, but that is perhaps the American in me...

Date/Place Completed: 6/18/08, D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017