W.G. Sebald has been described as “a writer of almost unclassifiable originality”.
You’d be just as likely to encounter his “essayistic semi-fiction” under travel literature, history or fiction. It is all of these things, and none of these things.
Sebald wrote about the plight of emigrants, and in particular, emigrants from the Holocaust.
His obsessions included survivor’s guilt, the nature of decline and fall, loss and decay, and the downward plunge of nature and history.
“Memories lie slumbering within us for months and years, quietly proliferating,” he writes, “until they are woken by some trifle and in some strange way blind us to life.”
Sebald was also controversial for using other people’s memories and photographs to create his incredibly moving works of art.
Was he a German writer ransacking Jewish stories? Was he a mystic? Where should ethical lines be drawn?
I turned to his biographer to find out.
She taught academic and life writing at the University of Warwick and Birkbeck College, University of London, and has edited several books of refugee writing. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002.
We spoke about W.G. Sebald, and her new biography, Speak, Silence.
These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:
- Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald
- The Emigrants
- The Rings of Saturn
- A Place in the Country