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The Emigrants
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Readalongs > The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald (Dhanaraj, Diane S., Gill& Jenny)

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Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Continuing both our memory and Sebald streak, we will be reading this in August. Anyone is welcome to join.

I will be spending the first 12 days of August in Northern Ireland again but I would like to bring this along and read it there. Would it be OK for us to start this in either the first or second week of August?

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I am ready for the first week. But then I can also adjust to the second week if others find the second week very ideal.

Gill | 5720 comments I'm happy with whatever date you prefer. Which reminds me, I must buy it for my kindle!

Diane S ☔ Have it so I am ready to start whenever it is convenient for everyone else.

Gill | 5720 comments I have just read an article which I think one of you mentioned previously. I found it very interesting. Here's the article;

A quote from it that I liked a lot is:
'W. S. Merwin said that Sebald’s writing conjures from the details and sequences of daily life, and their circumstances and encounters, from apparent chance and its unsounded calculus, the dimension of dream and a sense of the depth of time that makes his books, one by one, indispensable. He evokes at once the minutiae and the vastness of individual existence, the inconsolable sorrow of history and the scintillating beauty of the moment and its ground of memory.'

Gill | 5720 comments And here's one for Jenny, a dance adaptation relating to 'The Emigrants'!

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments let's start the first week then. looking forward to it!

Katie (youneverarrived) | 168 comments Can I join in with this one? I bought it a while back but never got round to reading it yet.

Gill | 5720 comments That would be nice, Katie. Welcome!

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Katie wrote: "Can I join in with this one? I bought it a while back but never got round to reading it yet."

Another one to the Readalong. Welcome Katie. By the way, I am beginning this book on Monday.

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I've started this yesterday. Just to let you guys know, I will not be able to comment daily since I am on tour again, but I will take notes and share whenever I have the chance to go online. It starts very 'Sebaldian'. Love the descriptions of the people an the place.

And Katie: sure!

Katie (youneverarrived) | 168 comments Thanks :) I've started reading it today and enjoying it so far. Just finished the chapter on Paul Bereyter.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments The speed that you are all into it, makes me to begin the book as quickly as possible. I am planning to begin reading it from tomorrow afternoon.

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Gill | 5720 comments There are so many references in Sebald's work, so often to people I've never heard of. I need to check them out, and also check whether they are fictional!

On page 17 he refers to a film about Kasper Hauser; now that is someone I know of, maybe someone worthy of a book by Sebald all to himself. And I'm pretty certain the film will be the one by Werner Herzog, again another suitable Sebaldian character!

I find it astonishing how many links Sebald puts into his books.

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Gill | 5720 comments When we've all finished the Henry Selwyn section, I'd be interested to discuss which people, places and events you think actually happened and which are made up. Also whether you think that matters.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I began reading the book last night. I completed the first chapter on Henry Selwyn: And the Last Remnants Memory Destroys. I purposefully added the sub title for it already explains the theme.

As many of you have already observed, the first chapter already contains themes that are very much sebaldian, such as, the memory, longing for the lost things (the past), reality vs dream, melancholic narration of the destruction, the transience of human nature and the various references to many other events/authors and thus revealing the hidden link.

I was particularly struck by two observations:

1. A quote at the end of the chapter: "AND SO THEY ARE EVER RETURNING TO US, THE DEAD."

2. The fact about home sickness/nostalgia. Henry has a home sickness for the place in which he lived just for seven years. But that place and the moving away from it remained ever fresh in his memory that the little remnants haunted him at the close of his life. If for a boy of 7, the uprooting from the home can be so painful what would have been the case for his parents? That question haunted me.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Gill wrote: "When we've all finished the Henry Selwyn section, I'd be interested to discuss which people, places and events you think actually happened and which are made up. Also whether you think that matters."

I am not sure of what happened or what did not happen. But then, I am sure of one thing: Every event narrated matters and that has helped in bringing the message clear. The message may vary according to the person who reads. But I feel that no event or person could be removed from the chapter.

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Gill | 5720 comments Another thing that struck me whilst reading this chapter is that Henry changed his name, and the implications of doing this. It happens to so many people when they move to a new country, that must be part of the heartache for what you leave behind. Incidentally, or similarly, I think many women leave a lot behind when/if they change their name on marriage.

Also, Henry felt the need to keep his origins hidden from his wife. So sad.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments @ Gill: One can never say, What's in a Name? It contains an identity and the loss of identity is very detrimental to one's psyche. Memory, plays the villain reminding often of the loss.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I completed the second chapter, PAUL BEREYTER: THERE IS MIST THAT NO EYE CAN DISPEL. The themes are repeated (the dead persons keep coming back), the haunting of memory, the sense of loss of an identity, the sense of feeling of an exile in one's own land, etc. The only difference is that the haunting sensation gets intense in this episode.

Paul, as a teacher reminded me of my own teacher. I traveled to those days when I walked behind some of my teachers in out botanic expedition. Sebald stimulates the memory and memory takes hold of you completely. At that moment he hits you hard with the hard fact (the violent end of Paul).

In which chapter are you all in? I will begin the third chapter today.

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Gill | 5720 comments Just starting second chapter, Dhanarah. I want to read the book fast and I want to read the book slow!

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I am here! I finally found a place with functioning wifi! :)

I am in the last story (note to self: I read much more when I can't hang out on GR comfortably ;))

I am realizing that I have no way of answering that question Gill, but I noticed that I was reading all of the stories searching for where he fades in and out of fiction or fact. Does Aileen really exist or does Sebald place her there as a reference to something else (maybe even a literary character) that this place might have reminded him of? Did he ever really spent time there? I keep being reminded of my friend Kai who collects passport pictures of strangers and creates their biography. If you were to meet him and asked him about the passport pictures in his wallet he'd make it sound as if he really knew these people. Is Sebalds technique similar I wonder? You see maybe all there ever was, was this walk where they bumbed into the place and an older man, maybe they just saw him sitting on a bench, and maybe someday he read the article about Naegeli and knitted them together? Again his way of writing constantly references the world outside of the world you are constantly surrounded by.

Another thing I thought of with this story (and most of the other ones) how we give sense to certain seemingly random actions in retrospect as a technique of how we make sense of life and tie ends together. (view spoiler)

What adds to the confusing but also intensity of these portraits I think is that Sebald often lends his 'I'. When Selwyn talks about his memories of the village near Grodno for long parts Sebald lets him speak as 'I'. He does so for even longer in the other stories and I realize that this technique always lulls me into believing every word I am reading to be true, an autobiography in fact, and it is only when he goes back to telling from a distance that I start wondering again about the lines of fiction and fact.

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Gill | 5720 comments I prefer to think of some of the characters in his book as fictional rather than factual. If not, I would find the ways that he describes them and the things he says about them to be quite intrusive into their life and past, even if in fact they have died by now.

Yes, Jenny, we certainly do try to link things together in order to make sense of the past and present. The idea that things in fact happen randomly can be quite frightening to many people, I think.

The effect of reading Sebald means that I do actually need to confirm with you, do you have a friend called Kai who actually does this with passport photos?!

Diane S ☔ Starting this today. We ended up taking an impromptu long weekend and just got back last night.Not reading the comments yet, until I at least finish chapter one.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Gill said: "The effect of reading Sebald means that I do actually need to confirm with you, do you have a friend called Kai who actually does this with passport photos?!"


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I personally feel that he is writing about real persons and that he adds some details here and there out of his own knowledge gathered from his reading or travel, etc. It is in this context I find his 'I' narration powerful. He wants the persons to be very close to the reader. He wants to create the image that the person dead is not an unknown person to the reader. He is a person who knows the reader and naturally the reader knows that person. This fact is further emphasized by the accompanying photographs. When I read about Paul, I could not help myself but feel very sad for him very emotionally and along with Paul I was angry with the people of S. Also I could understand why he chose to live in the hostile S even when he felt himself an exile. For it was his nest. He couldn't go elsewhere.

Sebald, in this book wants to tell a different message or lay the emphasis of a particular message along with his other themes. At least that is what I feel. But I can be certain of it at the end.

It is in this context, the question/message (THE DEAD KEEP COMING TO US) haunts. In other words, is he, as a German feel the burden of the crime of his nation during the Nazi regime.

This book might evoke different sentiments to a Jew who escaped the tough times while for a German who lived the tough times it might evoke different sentiments and those of us who were not physically part of the history might evoke different sentiments. Is it so? Or am I making it too academic.

But then, it is true that my mind is still rolling over the words (THE DEAD KEEP COMING TO US).

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments About giving meanings to past actions in retrospect: This is very human. Once a person has ended his life everyone searches for reasons in which could have avoided the tragedy. The simple events or phrases come into the mind telling that it was already foretold by him/her. Only that we were not very attentive to it. Human mind wants to find reasons for everything. And for a searching mind there is always a hidden link.

Katie (youneverarrived) | 168 comments Dhanaraj that quote struck me too - "and so they are ever returning to to us, the dead". Think it's really prominent in the book. I haven't read much more since Saturday when I was off work but have just began the third chapter.
This is my first time reading a book by Sebald, is the use of photos a usual thing for him? I actually really like it and think it adds something else to the book - the narratives almost tell as if their memoirs, along with the photos, which I'm sure was the author's intention.

I think it's interesting aswell that in the first two chapters both of the characters have kept a part of their lives from people close to them. Like the narrator in the Paul Bereyter chapter says that he didn't know a lot of things about his teacher (although he was only his student) and Henry didn't tell his wife about his early life.

I do think there's so much in the book to be discovered. I was originally going to read this for uni so I might have to dig out the old course book to see what is written about it.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments His usage of photographs is very much typical of Sebald.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments A question to Jenny: In the third chapter, there is a reference to a German film about a gambler. What film is it? And have you seen it?

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Gill | 5720 comments Like Katie says, there is the strand through the chapters that people keep things secret from people who are close to them. I wonder if that means that they keep things secret from themselves as well?

I've just finished the third section. I found the description of Cosmo and Ambro's trip to Jerusalem rather long winded, although I did like the section in Istanbul, which I visited last year. I did like the earlier parts of this section, especially the visit by the narrator to Ithaca, where the private hospital had been. The section about shock treatment was shocking, but I can see that it was interesting in terms of memory.

The third section has been my least favourite.

Diane S ☔ Just finished chapter two and I too was struck by the returning from the dead comment. The dead are still alive as long as they are in someone's memory, in that way they continually return. Love his descriptions and the pictured make everything seem so real.

I think people believe certain things about themselves, what they need to believe in order to function in the world.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I too completed the third section.

Remaining secret with one's own memories is the thread running throughout this chapter too.

It is in this context I was struck by few sentences in the book:
For instance: "...I gradually became convinced that Uncle Adelwarth had an infallible memory, but that, at the same time, he scarsely allowed himself access to it. For that reason, telling stories was as much a torment to him as an attempt at self-liberation." This theme was said by C. Wolf and Sebald in VERTIGO as well.

About his willingness to go for shock treatment itself was "in fact due simply to his longing for an extinction as total and irreversible as possible of his capacity to think and remember."

And then the last quote: "Memory, he added in postscript, often strikes me as a kind of dumbness. It makes one's head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down on the earth from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds."

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Gill | 5720 comments I've reading the fourth section now. I'm finding the description of Manchester brilliant. It's one of the few places in Sebald's books that I know, and at the time he is describing. I can feel what he is describing in my bones. And yet it's not something I've thought about for years. Uncanny!

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Gill | 5720 comments Just checked out Wadi Halfa. It was a town destroyed by the construction of the Aswan Dam. There seems to be significance in so many things that Sebald chooses to include.

Diane S ☔ It is just that which makes me feel I should actually read each section twice. I just love his words and connections and am afraid I am missing something. I too am looking things up as I go along, which is slowing me down some. Hope to complete the third section today, though I may go back and re-read the second.

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Gill | 5720 comments I am well into section four and have highlighted so so many sections as worthy of quoting and discussion. I am in awe of Sebald's writing style, its quality and its content. The beauty of the description of where Luisa grew up, contrasted with the horrors that would come to her as an adult, is painful.

There is so much I want to say about this section, but I'll leave it until we have all finished.

Diane S ☔ Just starting section four, so far my favorite is section 2. Just something about that school teacher and his story struck me. Nostalgic, probably.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I too might complete reading it tiday. I am in the middle of the fourth section.

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Here is my review in which I have summerised some of my thoughts on this book:

Diane S ☔ I have finished, actually want to go home and re-read the last section again. Very emotional and makes one really think.

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Gill | 5720 comments Diane S. wrote: "I have finished, actually want to go home and re-read the last section again. Very emotional and makes one really think."

I agree entirely, Diane.

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Diane, I felt the same, infact , now that I am back home I will re-read the last section. I've finished this days ago but kept picking it up again re-reading parts. Somehow his books really change my way of reading. I remember I did the same with the last book we've read by him, often also because my mind starts to wander while I read, similar to day-dreaming, so I need to go back to make sure what the actual text was and where me mind went onto a little excursion of its own.
Will comment in a bit more detail when my bags are unpacked and life is a bit more back to normal.

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Gill | 5720 comments I've just reread the final section, and feel I could happily re-read it again. Sebald's style, now I'm onto my third book, strikes me as more structured and knowing than I first thought, but I still like it a lot.

The final section, re the photo of the three women is very moving, especially the final sentence.

I am very moved by his writing. It fills my memory with a final sentence from a book by Primo Levi, but I'm not sure which book, about when the train comes it could be coming for any of us. (Or something like that)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments For the Sebaldians and the memory related readers amongst us: and the book that goes with it:Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H. G. Adler and W. G. Sebald

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Gill | 5720 comments Thanks, Jenny. I'll have a look at this.

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dely | 5214 comments I have finished it this evening and have read your messages. Till the end I was sure it wasn't fiction and that the characters were real; there were also the pictures.
Now I'm confused: is it fiction or non-fiction?

message 48: by Gill (last edited Jan 24, 2015 02:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 5720 comments dely, this is about the photographs in Austerlitz, which may go some way to explain a bit about the photographs in this book also:

Fiction? Nonfiction? Well, I think it's a mixture of the two. Maybe some of the incidents are true but happened to someone else. I don't think it's clear where the dividing lines are. I think maybe Sebald thought the dividing lines aren't clear in real life.

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dely | 5214 comments Gill wrote: "dely, this is about the photographs in Austerlitz, which may go some way to explain a bit about the photographs in this book also:

Fiction? Nonfiction? ..."

The link brings me to the homepage of youtube but I think I've found the video where he talks about photos (it's in English with Spanish subtitles).
It's very interesting why he decided to add the photos. Until I read your comments I was sure everything was real, that the characters really existed so there was just a little bit of disappointment when I found out that it's mainly fiction. But I thought about the book all this time and I really love how he dealt with the theme of memory and remembrance. I liked also his writing style and his prose.

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