W.G. Sebald

By Charles Wright

My current enthusiasm is the novelist W.G. Sebald, by now a not-unknown quantity, but still not as widely appreciated as he should be. A German who has lived in England, and teaches there, for the past 25-30 years, his book Vertigo was published in this country this year. I read it with great pleasure, and a kind of amazement. It was a kind of rediscovery, in truth, as I had read his novel The Emigrants several years ago. And that is a brilliant book. Vertigo, similarly structured around four narratives, was the first books Sebald wrote, but the last translated into English. The Emigrants was the second written, but the first into English. A third novel, The Rings of Saturn, was the last of the three, but the second into English. All three are extraordinary books, and The Emigrants is surely a masterpiece. The translation of all three books is done by Michael Hulse, a labor of love and genius. What are the books about? Well, Sebald in a landscape. But what the landscape is–and what the landscapes are–moves, as Flaubert said, "the stars to pity."