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The Emigrants

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  7,944 ratings  ·  755 reviews
At first The Emigrants appears simply to document the lives of four Jewish émigrés in the twentieth century. But gradually, as Sebald's precise, almost dreamlike prose begins to draw their stories, the four narrations merge into one overwhelming evocation of exile and loss.

Written with a bone-dry sense of humour and a fascination with the oddness of existence The Emigrants
Paperback, 237 pages
Published May 29th 2002 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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Vit Babenco
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Emigrants: four human lives, four broken fates… W.G. Sebald, himself an emigrant for many years, knows how it does feel to live far away from a homeland.
Dr. Selwyn and I had a long talk prompted by his asking whether I was ever homesick. I could not think of any adequate reply, but Dr. Selwyn, after a pause for thought, confessed (no other word will do) that in recent years he had been beset with homesickness more and more. When I asked where it was that he felt drawn back to, he told me tha
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some faculties of human mind which have been haunting human beings since time immemorial, for so less we've been able to comprehend about our brain- we might have stepped out of our home to look for other (probable) homes but the enigma of our mind is still very much elusive for us. Mankind has regularly witnessed the immense destruction wrought by natural disasters. Similarly destructive to human life have man-made atrocities, like war and genocide. Those who were lucky enough to surv ...more
Jan 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am usually not able to read on airplanes for various reasons, not least of which is that I need to concentrate on operating my imaginary foot pedals to ensure that the plane doesn't plummet to the earth and crash in a fiery eruption of cheap diamond-patterned blue upholstery, molten plastic, and of course several dozen charred, unidentifiable human remains. The most I can hope for in the way of diversionary reading is that crappy catalog of shit that no one in their right mind (which doesn't r ...more
My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

~ Tichborne's Elegy

It’s hard to fathom the way memories assume their role in our lives. Sometimes like a long lost companion and sometimes like an unwelcome guest, they walk the slippery road of our yesteryear excursions and become the unreliable sour
Adam Dalva
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sebald as comfort; Sebald as an embodiment of experimental genius; Sebald, again, does the impossible. This is a hugely admirable linked story collection (basically, though no one would probably call it that), whose connections are at once subcutaneous and massive. The influence of Nazism on this strange, spectral, melancholy work is fascinating, as is the slow, steady realization that Nabokov (!) is a supporting character who appears in all 4 segments, mostly unnamed, as the butterfly man. Seba ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016

Words fail me when I most need them. This is one of the saddest books I have ever read. Also a necessary book, a much needed testimonial for those whose lives have perished with their song unsung, victims of the last century’s ethnic cleansing and forced exile. A quiet desperation permeates almost every page, a slow dissolving into nothingness, a loss of innocence, a disconnect between generations that translates into a decaying present. Bad Kissingen was once a gem of a town, a Bavarian baroque
Sean Barrs
We all have bad memories. We all have memories that we’d rather forget. And as we age we gain more and more of them, but this is nothing exceptional. This only speaks of the everyday. What Sebald shows us is that some memories are so fantastically good, that remembering them is like stabbing oneself in the chest.

Sebald’s characters speak of a time when they were happier, more content, younger and perhaps even loved. Since that time they have grown older and the things that made them happy have w
You said: ”I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
Find another city better than this one

These verses from Cavafy at once came to my mind as only I started reading The emigrants . Sebald takes us for a journey back into the past, travelling across Switzerland, France, America, England, Jerusalem, Constantinople. We can see him collecting maps, diaries, photographs of people and places, houses, railways and furniture, in detail depicturing all migration traces through cities, hotels,
Nidhi Singh
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nidhi by: Garima
For years the images of that exodus had been gone from his memory, but recently he said, they had been returning once again and making their presence felt.

I have never come across a writer who evokes the beautiful, tragic, calamitous struggle and engagement between a person and the past as Sebald does in ‘The Emigrants’. In this devastatingly beautiful exploration of loss and exile, of history and biography, of the lives and memory of these four lost souls, there is the undertow of soft whisper
Roger Brunyate
Vanished Lives

On the surface, this is a very simple book: separate biographical memoirs about four men known to the author, who, like him, were emigrants from their native Germany. But despite the numerous photographs and wealth of confirming detail, this is fiction, and the subjects are pure invention or at most composites.

The book is an apparent impossibility: a Holocaust novel that is rich and gentle rather than searing. Born of a Catholic family in 1944, Sebald was not a direct victim of t
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This quiet and beautifully written novel tells of four men who survived World War II, and who emigrated to other countries, leaving their countries of origin behind in order to settle elsewhere. Even though the four main characters all escaped with their lives, there is no real peace for any of them as the effects of the war remain, washing wave after wave of sadness and muted memories of loss over their entire lives. W. G. Sebald keeps his readers distant from his protagonists by telling
Lyn Elliott
The Emigrants is such a mighty book that it has taken me some time to think about what I can say about it, and in the end I've decided to start my review with these paragraphs from its Foreword:

‘At first The Emigrants appears simply to document the lives of four Jewish emigrés in the twentieth century. But gradually, as Sebald’s precise, almost dreamlike prose begins to draw their stories, the four narrations merge into one overwhelming evocation of exile and loss.
‘Written with a bone-dry sens
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 beat
I requested this book from my library after reading a superb review here on Goodreads by Roger Brunyate. Sebald has written fictional biographies of four men, three German and one Russian. The Second World War and the Holocaust are at the center of all their stories. The volume is filled with photographs that give the impression these are true stories rather than creations of the author. They are immensely sad because above all they are about loss - loss of family, home, country and for some, la ...more
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was my third Sebald novel (if “novel” is the word). It probably ought to have been my first, and I’d recommend it as a good introduction to Sebald’s special concerns and peculiar style. Those concerns: Memory, first of all, its collection and preservation, and its failure; exile in all its forms; the case of the German people, especially the post-war generation’s attempt to grasp their historical burden; the Holocaust and everything lost in the flames. That style: Cool and meditative, with ...more
Will Ansbacher
These are four enigmatic and haunting stories of increasing length and complexity, where the narrator is not necessarily the same person in each - but I’ll call him N anyway.

Despite some very moving passages and a tremendous sense of loss, I didn’t at first feel the whole was very successful, a 3-ish star at best. The narratives can be bleak and heart-wrenching, certainly, but they run on and on - sometimes stalled in a recall of quite impossible detail, then skipping abruptly to another topic.
Inderjit Sanghera
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Two images flashed through my head when reading Sebald's 'The Emigrants'. The first one was a character's statement that reading his mother’s memoirs was like an evil German fairy tale that once you start reading, you have to carry on reading until your heart breaks; reading 'The Emigrants' is a lot like this, the second one was the constant reappearance of the author Vladimir Nabokov in each narrative; The Emigrants is the retelling of four seemingly disparate Jewish émigrés’ in the twentieth c ...more
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sebald's writing is an artistry in a league of its own. This novel of four independent narratives tied to another through the themes of loss, exhile and remembering. Whether one of Sebald's subjects (or narrators, for that matter) is reminiscing of a lost country or a dead loved one, the words couldn't be more perfectly chosen, more weighted with meaning.

Sebald is also a master at depicting the two-headed dragon of memory with its ability to cage and liberate. Telling stories was as much a torme
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs, 2017
A thoughtful reflection on what it means to endure, witness, and remember unspeakable acts of violence. Confronting the legacy of the Holocaust several steps removed from the atrocity, the essayistic novel muses about trauma, stress, guilt, longing, and migration. Grainy photographs are paired with quiet text, rooted in survivors’ testimony; Sebald self-consciously struggles to account for enormous loss.
This was actually far better and more readable than Ring of Saturn, I thought. The last of the four stories did get a bit hung up on itself and I was expecting more of a tied finish, but there's no fault to find with the threads or the colors, and the piece on his elementary school teacher was truly touching and ranks up there with the best character profiles I've ever read. It's all poignant without being overwrought (again perhaps apart from the rather meandering final piece), it's striking im ...more
Jun 17, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europa
I had been wanting to read Sebald for a long time. His combination of memoir, chronicle, history is beautiful. There is something about the tone, though, that I had a hard time connecting with. I will definetly try reading more of his books, but I think I´ll try in spanish next time, just to get the feel of what he sounds like in another languaje.
Eddie Watkins
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german-fiction
A beautiful book about deeply ingrained, even crippling, sadness, tragic death, and suicide. Rather than a novel it's more a suite of four tales whose logic as it progresses becomes increasingly more connotative and poetic, becoming finally in the last few pages a shuffling of evocative images that cleanse and invigorate as they further reveal deeper folds of abiding sadness in the world; a dark emptiness that is somehow fertile.

For Sebald the source of this fertility is memory. He will often pr
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I was a kid I thought that everyone was happier than me, that they felt connected to the world in a way that I did not. I experienced life as though I was behind glass, as though some barrier existed between me and the world that obscured, muffled, and distorted it. That wasn’t, as it is tempting to assume, a consequence of being raised in straightened circumstances - although I guess that did not help at all – it was something that was in me and has remained with me, at least in a diluted ...more
Jul 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my previous review for The Rings of Saturn I referred to Sebald's authorial style as that of a slow-burn blues; and this applies even more so to The Emigrants, where we are guided through the mists of memory by the cadenced, subdued pace of Sebald's narrative voice, only to be periodically wrenched out of beguiling reverie by the poignant, stinging cry of sustained bends and vibrato when important, necessary pieces of this haunting exile's puzzle are slipped into place - in nonchalant but ...more
Those who have this in their libraries will know that it is choicely raved about on the cover. Ondaatje leads the pack 'This deeply moving book shames most writers with its nerve and tact and wonder'. Nicholas Shakespeare, Anita Brookner, Susan Sontag, Karl Miller all have a stab at bettering that. I might add that the women are both of Jewish background.

But how can I read this, when I picked it up to start, and first saw the words of the dead man who left his library for me to pick through?

In h
Dhanaraj Rajan
May 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Initial Remark:

I completed reading the book yesterday. And I could not write an early review because I was emotionally very much disturbed by the questions/sentiments exposed by Sebald in the final pages.

Otherwise, it is a typical Sebald book with the usual themes of MEMORY, TRANSIENCE OF HUMAN NATURE, LONGING FOR THE PAST, HIDDEN LINKS THAT REGULARIZE LIFE, etc. The theme predominant throughout the book is MEMORY and it ends with a powerful question that touches on the theme of collective guil
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I cannot improve on the Foreword as quoted in this review:

‘At first The Emigrants appears simply to document the lives of four Jewish emigrés in the twentieth century. But gradually, as Sebald’s precise, almost dreamlike prose begins to draw their stories, the four narrations merge into one overwhelming evocation of exile and loss.
‘Written with a bone-dry sense of humour and a fascination with the oddness of existence The Emigrants is highly original in its heady mix of fact, memory, fiction and
Matthew Ted
96th book of 2020.

Simply, this novel is about the lives of four Jewish émigrés in the 20th century. It is written in that wonderful and haunting voice of Sebald’s, which I touched on in my recent Vertigo review. And, like in my Vertigo review, Sebald has once again taken me through the lives of the people in this book, but made me reflect on the people from my own life. I have decided that Sebald is so important to read because he makes us look into the past, into history, of western civilisatio
Dec 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Reading books that have been translated into English from their original language is a novel experience for me. Wiesław Myśliwski’s “Stone Upon Stone” afforded a taste of life in Poland among the rural farming community. In “The Emigrants”, W. G. Sebald traced the lives of four German emigrants who each lived an inevitable exile of sorts.

The English translation by Michael Hulse was very good and lyrical, even luscious. The pages were interposed with photographs and I wished I had a hard copy of
Jason Coleman
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: greatest-hits
Reviewing this exercise in minimal maximalism requires more concentration than I can muster at the moment (having just returned with the kids from the final Harry Potter movie--jesus, talk about hitting both ends of the spectrum). So just few thoughts:

This is a lyrical memoir very much along the lines of Nabokov's Speak, Memory (and, in an act of homage, Sebald gives the famous butterfly hunter a cameo appearance in each of his book's four sections), but whereas Nabokov seemed to believe he cou
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Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald was a German writer and academic. His works are largely concerned with the themes of memory, loss of memory, and identity (both personal and collective) and decay (of civilizations, traditions or physical objects). They are, in particular, attempts to reconcile himself with, and deal in literary terms with, the trauma of the Second World War and its effect on the G ...more

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