John's Reviews > The Emigrants

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
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's review
May 02, 08

bookshelves: done-been-read-shelf
Recommended for: Anyone
Read in April, 2008

This book is outstanding. It is at once avant-garde and entirely accessible (and in being both, truly rare in contemporary letters). On the surface, it is about the lives (and often, deaths) of four Holocaust survivors. However, it is equally about the social, emotional and psychic affectations of being the survivors of (which is to say, the kin of) Holocaust survivors. Underwriting all of this is the books generic categorization, which flows seamlessly, back and forth between fiction and non-fiction, bringing to the reader's mind a whole litany of substantive questions: of authorial intent, of what constitutes fictive and non-fictive writing, of the nature of storytelling and its inextricable ties to survival via the collective memory, of the potential fallibility of memory (in general) and of the memoir as a genre (in specific), even going so far as to question the ability of traumatized people to accurately represent their lives via memory/recall (or if this accuracy is even necessary). As you can no doubt see, the book's genre is where Sebald's avant-gardism shows itself, constantly enacting the negotiative processes of memory at the individual, cultural and even authorial levels. Published in 1996, it substantially predates (and brings more to bear and overwhelms) the cultural discussion of the fallibility of memoirs brought about by that a-hole James Frey and his pandering piece of filth "Million Little Pieces." That Sebald's book doesn't nor ever will have that insipid capital-letter O inscribed on its cover only makes it that much more worth considering for your next read.
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