Some W.G. Sebald books

(actualisé le ) by Ray

Vertigo (1990) [1]

This is a literary essay on memory and the tricks it plays on us by a modern master of evocative, erudite, clear-sighted prose. Sebald takes us in the superb opening chapter with Stendahl through the Alps during Napoleon’s Italian campaign to meditate on the contrast between Stendahl’s vivid memories of the events he lived through and their objective, photographic realities, and continues to wander around Verona, Venice and Vienna in company with Casanova, Kafka and his own memories of places seen and people met, to finally confront his snatches of childhood memories in his birthplace in the mountains of southern Germany.

As in his other works the book is amply illustrated with photographs and images of the subjects under consideration to add an extra, visual layer of significance and poetry onto the penetrating power of the prose itself. A memorable reading experience, as always with the author of The Rings of Saturn..

A more complete review (in French) of this superb book can be seen on this site by clicking here.

The Emigrants (1992) [2]

In four separate, unrelated chapters Sebald explores the passage through time of four almost-average and almost-unassuming persons that had crossed his own life path at one time or another. In his uniquely penetrating way he digs ever further to explore the ever-widening implications of his findings to present us with a deeply moving, intense and profound portrait of the times through which these in fact exceptional people lived.

Sebald can make you see into the heart of things like no one else, thanks to his superb mastery of language and to the innate integrity and honesty of the way he approaches his subjects, going from the topmost, surface impressions through to the deepest layers of significance. The growing interest one feels as each of the people-stories unfolds is, as always with the author of The Rings of Saturn, considerably enhanced by the ubiquitous photos and images, which combine with the pregnant prose to heighten the ever-present sense of the wider implications of the life-stories of his four people-subjects.

This was the first of Sebald’s works to be translated into English (1996), and it quite understandably immediately established his international reputation as one of Germany’s leading contemporary writers.

The Rings of Saturn (1995) [3]

Sebald goes wandering around rural England visiting places of interest to him and thinking about writers and painters and thinkers and cities and landscapes that these places bring to his erudite and fertile mind.

Since everything he looks at and writes about assumes near-cosmic significance thanks to the magic of his bewitching prose and penetrating internal vision, the reader is in for a big treat indeed, boosted by the neat way images of the subject under scrutiny are systematically inserted throughout the text.

On the Natural History of Destruction (1999) [4]

A series of lectures on the subject of the Allied terror bombings of German cities throughout the Second World War, avowedly aimed at destroying the morale of the German population by killing as many civilians as possible, that really began with the surprise levelling of the residential areas of Hamburg in the summer of 1942 and that was carried steadily onwards up to the apocalyptic 2000-bomber raid on Dresden and its masses of refugees in April 1945(!).

Sebald wonders aloud, in his clear, straightforward, implacably logical way, why this painful subject has been with one or two exceptions almost entirely swept under the carpet in post-war Germany, with the subject being avoided by almost all writers and intellectuals, with the many eyewitness accounts by survivors being quite unobtainable, so that the very subject itself has become a non-subject in the modern German consciousness.

A striking plea for intellectual honesty by the author of The Rings of Saturn.

Austerlitz (2001) [5]

Sebald does it again: he turns what starts out as a somewhat rambling series of personal reminiscences - centered not on the infamous death camp but on an extraordinarily erudite and engaging professor named Austerlitz, whose brilliant extempore exposé on architecture and time during a chance encounter in the Antwerp train station at the beginning of the book sets the tone for what we are in for - into a panoramic view of the state of contemporary culture and a literary work of art of the first order.

Sebald’s startlingly clear, precise prose flows on in a harmonious, captivating way that reminds me somehow of the effect of Marcel P’s very own style.


[1Schwindel, Gefühle, Folio, 267 p.

[2Die Ausgewanderten, Folio, 309 p.

[3Die Ringe des Saturn: eine englische Wallfahrt, Vintage, 296 p.

[4Luftkrieg und Literatur, Actes Sud, 199 p.

[5Folio, 401 p.