The emigrants by W G Sebald
Original title -Die Ausgewanderten
Source – Personnel copy
Translator – Michael Hulse
Well another November is on us again and it is German Lit month and as I sit writing my first post of the month on Halloween as tomorrow I am in London giving a talk to the Swedish translators group. I decided to kick of this years German lit month with a great reread from one of my favourite writers Max Sebald was maybe better known in the Uk at the time he wrote. But know 15 years after his death we are slowly seeing writers influenced by him , I am at the moment reading one such writer from Slovenia.
The years of the second world war, and the decades after , were a blinding, bad time for me, about which i could not say a thing even if i wanted to . In 1960, when I had to give up my practice and my patents, i severed my last ties with what they call the real world.Since then, almost mu only companions have been plants and animals.
Dr Henry selwyn had to escape the world into nature to get through life in the end
The Emigrants was the second book by Sebald I read after I read rings of Saturn by in 1998 , I got the two earlier books by him in the weeks after I finished Rings Saturn. So it is nearly twenty years since I read this book and this second reading hit me more than the first one. The story is of four emigres from Europe . A doctor his story remind me of my own connection years ago to a man from the Baltic states my friend was from Latvia where as DR Selwyn in the story comes from Lithuania . Else where in the last of the four tales we see Max Ferber a painter Talk about his mother and her childhood but also along side this is his life in Manchester which touched my life again My grandfather was county architect for Salford in the 60’s and some of the modern blocks that my grandfather was involved with designing . So as max is describing his mothers pasts I connect with my own past in his present . Another story involves the narrator talking about the fate of his former school teacher that escaped before the war.
As I expected, I have remained in Manchester to this day, ferber continued. It is now twenty-two years since I arrived, he said , and with every year that passes a change of place seems less conceivable. Manchester has taken possession of me for good. I cannot leave, I do not want to leave, I must not. WEven the visits I have to make to London once or twice a year oppress and upset me
The north had soaked into Ferber holding and keeping him there .
I wondered if the germans have a word like Saudade that wonderful portuguese word that is a feeling of longing missing and memories of a lost past. There is a similar word Sehnsucht a word about longing but the saudade word is better her as it is about the loss a world this book these four are survivors of the holocaust in their own ways ans the four tales each reflect what was lost , the past that can never be this is what Sebald does so well in his book through his mix of prose and images to draw us as the reader deep into the world that is lost from the simple pictures of a class before the war and a wondering of how many were left . This remind me of when I met Dasa drndic the Croat writer and talked about her book trieste which in the italian version has pages that can be torn out of the list of Italian Jewish victims of the holocaust and the effect is to make the book and the story unstable and this is what Sebald does with his pictures glimpse of a dead past. A world now dead remember and lamented the loss of a jewish europe wiped out by the war and spread through out the world.