Ben's Reviews > The Emigrants

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
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's review
Feb 23, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: good-fiction, like-magic, transformative-experience
Read from February 23 to 27, 2011

They told me not to walk alone, day or night. But I had to see the cemetery. I’d been told earlier by a painter and a pharmacist that if I took a right onto the main road (dirty and stoned, of course) from the clinic, I would eventually come to the end of the road where I was sure to see the gates of El Cementerio. “But you aren’t going alone?” they asked.

As I set about, the blazing sun -- a hotness I was first introduced to and had only first known three days before, upon my arrival -- was beating on me with anger, but was a surprisingly pleasant contrast to the waves breaking to my right; the peaceful call of a Thursday afternoon. Children in their yards, old enough for school, but unlikely to attend. The grown men and women, happy to see my white face, smiling and waving; some yelling broken words of English, proud of what they knew; proud of their shacks and town of decay; knowing they were lucky to be surrounded such strange beauty. How did they know they were right? I knew they were right. And I took note of the sea again, its sound never stopping, hitting the sand in relentless, uneven waves.

I walked by the orphanage, where only the night before, amidst playing and watching the children perform, I’d been haunted by a tattered black and white image on the wall: an old man with a weathered face, deep wrinkles, no teeth, paternally gazing down at a child. Who was he? What did he know? If only through a dream, I knew the man; I did not know his information, but I knew him from a time long ago, a time flitting incoherently in my mind, but deep inside me just the same.

As the road continued there were no more houses; stray dogs now ran past me from my right side, coming from the trash heaps on the beach. To my left there were woods; the sun continued to blaze. Had I gone in the wrong direction? Should I have been afraid? I did not feel afraid.

The graveyard was a transcendent mess; graves scattered about and surrounded by weeds and unkempt grass; here and there a grave stood tall or was colored pink, or contained a message. The sea; it continued; it was still there, to my side, and I now saw it through trees, just over the hill; it was a part of the graveyard. All of it was. And an old photograph blew by feet, but I wouldn’t dare pick it up.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Kelly This looks great and so right up my alley! I hope you post how you like it.

message 2: by Ben (last edited Feb 24, 2011 05:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben The writing is superb! It really does seem like something you'd dig, Kelly. I'll keep ya updated.

Kelly Much appreciated! I can't get enough of exile lit. I think I have a problem. :)

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben I've noticed ; )

Kelly I know, its sad, isn't it? I need to discover a happier addiction- fluffy bunny picture books or something.

message 6: by Kelly (last edited Feb 27, 2011 06:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly Seconded. That VW review you did is still my fave of yours, I think. Thanks for showing and not telling- in booknerd speak, this is the most effective way I could've experienced how you felt about this.

I love the feeling of the incantation in this- if the book's prose has the same type of feel, I'll love it too.

message 7: by Ben (last edited Feb 28, 2011 09:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Thank you! They're fun to write, as well. Kelly, as I continued reading this I kept comparing it to what I perceive as being your taste, and it repeatedly confirmed my opinion that you’d like it.

Kelly Ben wrote: "Thank you! They're fun to write, as well. Kelly, as I continued reading this I kept comparing it back to what I perceive as being your taste, and it repeatedly confirmed my opinion that you’d lik..."

Well with such thorough surveying work done I definitely have to read it now! High on the to-reads it goes- good thing its almost birthday time! :)

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)


I used to think critics were the scum of the earth but this review has cured me of that. I would rather Michiko Kakutani would shit on my head 1000 times a week and call it litchrature than read more of this.


message 10: by JSou (new)

JSou Pat's back?! How did I miss this?

message 11: by JSou (new)

JSou Okay, never mind.

message 12: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben He was back! He deleted his account though. One can imagine how long it took him to figure out how. He also commented on David's Jewish review (the one he wrote when first creating the Yorba Linda guy).

message 13: by JSou (new)

JSou Right after my first post, 'Pat Dean' became 'deleted member'. Sad face.

I forgot about Yorba Linda guy! Good times.

message 14: by Ben (last edited Mar 23, 2011 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Yorba Linda, California has a place in a my heart, and in my heart it shall stay for the rest of my life.

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