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Campo Santo [Paperback]

W. G. Sebald , Anthea Bell
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Book Description

23 Feb 2006

Campo Santo is a collection of essays by W. G. Sebald

When W.G. Sebald died tragically in 2001 a unique voice was silenced. Campo Santo is a collection of the pieces he left behind - none of them previously published in book form - which provide a powerful insight into the themes that came to dominate his life.

Four pieces pay tribute to Corsica, weaving elegiacally between past and present. Sebald also examines the works of writers such as Kafka, Nabokov, and Günter Grass, showing both how literature can provide restitution for the injustices of the world and how such literature came to have so great an influence on him. Campo Santo is a fitting memorial to W.G. Sebald, who himself studied the shifting nature of memory and time with such sensitivity.

'A precious addition to the canon' Independent

'Will come to be seen as indispensable to an understanding of his work' Sunday Times

'Full of a sense of liberation and lightness ... these [pieces] abound in energy and work the authentic Sebaldian magic' Literary Review

'We have become suspicious, rightly, of claims for literary greatness, but in Sebald's case the claim was triumphantly justified. He was, he is, the real thing' John Banville, Guardian

'Sebald was probably the greatest intellect and voice of the late twentieth century' Anthony Beevor, The Times

'A writer whose explorations of time and memory make him arguably the closest author modern European letters has to rival Borges' Sunday Times

W . G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, Germany, in 1944 and died in December 2001. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland and Manchester. In 1996 he took up a position as an assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester and settled permanently in England in 1970. He was Professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia and is the author of The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, Austerlitz, After Nature, On the Natural History of Destruction, Campo Santo, Unrecounted, For Years Now and A Place in the Country. His selected poetry is published in a volume called Across the Land and the Water.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (23 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141017864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141017860
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 18,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

W. G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, in the Bavarian Alps, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland and Manchester. In 1966 he took up a position as an assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester, settling permanently in England in 1970. He was professor of Modern German Literature at the University of East Anglia, and is the author of The Emigrants which won the Berlin Literature Prize, the Literatur Nord Prize and the Johannes Bobrowski Medal, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. W. G. Sebald died in 2001.

Product Description


"A writer whose work [belongs] on the high shelf alongside that of Kafka, Borges and Proust."-The New York Times Book Review "Far outdoing even the best of these pieces are three set in Corsica. Perhaps intended as part of a new work of imagination, they compel a startled delight, and they compel painful regret-outrage even-that Sebald is gone and unable to continue."-Los Angeles Times Book Review "Brilliant . . . rollicking, sorrowful . . . [a] wonderfully mellifluous translation."-The Boston Globe

About the Author

W. G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and died in 2001. He is the author of The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, Austerlitz, After Nature, On the Natural History of Destruction and Unrecounted.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The words of the dead resound 23 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
So often, a posthumous collection of relaundered words from a master ends up awkwardly wrong. Thus, I approached this with more than mild anxiety. While in some ways, Sebald's lucid exploration of death rites in Sicily prefigures his own demise, the work as a whole has that fresh, startling observation which characterised his very best work. The familiar theme of German conscience post World War II is explored with even greater subtlety. The essay on Kafka's cinema typically includes a meditation on the problems of obsolescence facing literary scholars; Nabokov, Chatwin and Peter Handke are included; Gunter Grass's recent fall from grace happened after Sebald's death, so that is the one part which reads awkwardly. Anthea Bell's translation is pitch-perfect once again. Someone who has never read Sebald would very probably feel the desire to read his earlier work after reading this.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Enigma: History in Snapshots and Elegies 13 May 2005
By Grady Harp - Published on
WG Sebald whose too early accidental death in 2001 is a much-lamented loss to the literary world he so quietly entered briefly before his demise. He is a unique writer, one whose style includes ramblings and crude snapshots of incidental places that support his strange tales. For many he is an acquired taste and only time will tell whether his honored books will withstand the test of immortality. And that fact is very much in keeping with the worldview of this enormously gifted observer of the human condition and the plight of the individual played against the backdrop of history and melancholy.

CAMPO SANTO is not a completely successful book in the manner of this highly praised novels. But the very fact that his early departure from the writing stream impacted readers to the point of wanting more justifies this aggregation of four chapters of a novel based on Corsica and multiple lectures and essays and addresses. The book opens with a fine essay by editor Sven Meyer, a timetable that introduces Sebald to readers unfamiliar with his odd life. The subsequent works are translated from the German by Sebald's longtime translator Anthea Bell. And that fact introduces one of the many odd quirks in Sebald's career: why should a man who spent the better part of his expatriation from his native Germany teaching in England write in German instead of his adopted language English?

Perhaps one reason lies in the focus of each of Sebald's works. His stories are travels and meanderings through various locations that serve as his platform for posing the question of history as memory, the unresolved restitution of Germany after WW II (a period he only knew from seeing the disastrous postwar results and reading the reflective works of other writers coping with the crossfire of guilt and sadness/remorse and anger - he was born in 1944), an the driving need to understand the role of mankind in the flux of a globe at unrest.

Reading the first four chapters of CAMPO SANTO makes us wish he had completed this novel about Corsica and the fascination with the life of Napoleon who was born there. But the saved fragments of this novel interrupted by his award-winning AUSTERLITZ are savory and contain many eloquent passages to assuage the reader longing for more.

The remaining essays and lectures are dense and more cerebral but for those Sebald addicts there is much to digest about his thoughts and philosophy. And for those readers especially this final book is a must for the library. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, May 05
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Man learns from disasters as much as a lab rabbit from biology 19 May 2008
By H. Schneider - Published on
In other words, concludes this paraphrase of Brecht, that Sebald includes in the text on the lack of German literature on the bombing of German cities, survival of mankind would be purely accidental.
Sebald was a thorough pessimist. This book is a posthumous collection of travel texts on Corsica and literary essays, mostly on German language writers, but also on Chatwin (who could hardly have been German, thinks Sebald) and Nabokov (who most decidedly wasn't either, though his categorical statement that he did not learn German in 15 years living in Berlin has been doubted).
For me, the two key texts in the collection are Campo Santo and the one about the description of destruction. In addition there are essays on Handke's Kaspar Hauser (maybe you know Herzog's movie about this odd story; Handke is not my favorite writer, nor Herzog my favorite film maker; frankly speaking Sebald had little to say about them either); on Grass's and Hildesheimer's look back on the 3rd Reich; on Peter Weiss, the man who brought the Auschwitz trials to the stage (incidentally my selected writer for my Abitur exam, centuries ago); on Jean Amery, a victim; on Kafka with a nice little piece on his trip to Paris incl. an unappetizing visit to a bordello; on Nabokov, who explored the darkness on both ends of our lives and who saw butterflies as a subspecies of ghosts.
Campo Santo, the text that gave its title to the collection, is about the history and sociology of funerals in Corsica, with reference to the anthropological literature of the globe, and its lore of death and ghosts on this island, where Christianity has a hard time against the challenge of traditional superstitions. On a global scale, the megalopolis has no space for keeping the dead intact, they must move to cyberspace.
The main literary essay covers the strange fact that there was very little descriptive literature covering the destruction of German cities by bombing raids. Sole exception in the early years was Nossack's Untergang. What was written was generally drowned in mythical ruminations, as if the language of the fascist code had invaded the secret style of the 'inner emigration' and made it involuntarily identical. The debris of destruction are buried under the debris of a ruined culture. In the early years after the war, there was also no enquiry into the reason of the destruction; it was accepted like a destiny, a final judgment. However, more and more the blanket bombing of German cities during WW2 is seen as having been useless for the final victory, as useless as the blanket bombing of Vietnam later on.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Miscellany from the last great twentieth-century writer 14 Oct 2013
By R. M. Peterson - Published on
As much as I admire W. G. Sebald and cherish several of his prose narratives (especially "The Rings of Saturn"), I am ambivalent about CAMPO SANTO. That is due in large measure to the fact that it is not an integral work intended by Sebald for publication "as is". Rather, it is a collection of sixteen miscellaneous prose writings that were dumped into one book not long after Sebald's death in December 2001. While it is true that Sebald is a sufficiently important author to warrant publication of every scrap he ever wrote (at least for the benefit of scholars and ardent fans), I can't shake the sense that CAMPO SANTO exploits the frustrated desires of his readership for "more Sebald" in the wake of his untimely death just months after publication of "Austerlitz". For me, only two of the pieces in CAMPO SANTO are on the same plane as his great prose narratives. As for the remainder, several were quite enjoyable; I was relatively indifferent to several others; and three alternately bored and bewildered me.

I will limit my remaining comments to the two that were special to me. The first is the piece that lends its title to the collection as a whole. It is one of four texts (all included in this volume) that grew out of a walking tour of Corsica that Sebald undertook in 1996. The editor, Sven Meyer, says that Sebald had begun writing a book about Corsica; from the four Corsican pieces found here, one can guess that it would have been similar to "The Rings of Saturn", though probably more personal and less anonymous. "Campo Santo" is a meditation on death and funerary practices occasioned by Sebald's visit to a graveyard in Piana, a cliff-side town on the west coast of Corsica. (The well-known Campo Santo is in Pisa, Italy, but I am unaware of any direct relationship between that specific "holy field" and what Sebald writes about here.) The atmosphere is one of contemplative detachment, typical of Sebald. At the end, he speculates about the future of cemeteries and the commemoration of life and death they embody in the contemporary world with its burgeoning population: "In the urban societies of the late twentieth century, * * * we have to keep throwing ballast overboard, forgetting everything that we might otherwise remember: youth, childhood, our origins, our forebears and ancestors." W.G. Sebald was a man obsessed with the past; query whether there would have been a place for him in the twenty-first century.

The second special essay is entitled "An Attempt at Restitution". In it Sebald talks about a feature of his writing that captivates many astute readers - the connections (many of which are poignant coincidences rather than any sort of cause-and-effect relationship) that he discerns among people, places, and events. He traces this motif to an engraving that the painter Jan Peter Tripp gave him in 1976: "much of what I have written * * * derives from this engraving, even in my method of procedure: in adhering to an exact historical perspective, in patiently engraving and linking together apparently disparate things in the manner of a still life." Then, in his characteristically relaxed and discursive fashion, Sebald proceeds to give examples of the sorts of connections that grip him, two of which have as one of their antipodes Nazi atrocities. As is evident from this essay -- and, indeed, from all of his work -- the Nazis weighed heavily on Sebald (his father was a soldier in the Wehrmacht and he was born in Bavaria in 1944). In light of the Nazi enormities, as well as those in - to name four places mentioned in this essay - Sudan, Kosovo, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, Sebald is moved to ask, "So what is literature good for?" His answer is that literature - more so than a mere recital of facts, more so than scholarship - can "be an attempt at restitution". This essay came close to being Sebald's valediction and, by unfortunate yet happy Sebaldian coincidence, it provides a fitting encapsulation of his writing enterprise.
4.0 out of 5 stars Posthumous Collection of Prose and Critical Essays 8 Feb 2010
By Bryan Byrd - Published on
After discovering W. G. Sebald last year by way of his melancholy and powerful book 'The Emigrants', I had planned to read 'Rings of Saturn' next - that is until I found a copy of 'Campo Santo' in the bargain bin of another site. I ordered it on name recognition only, not knowing it was a posthumous collection of both critical essays and fragments of another novel begun around the same time that 'Saturn' was published. As such, I would not recommend 'Santo' to someone new to Sebald, and even those who already appreciate his work may feel ambivalent about this collection.

The trouble I've found with books like these, gathered together after the author's death, is that either the editor, through his selection and collating process, is too intrusive, or else we get everything but the kitchen sink - excerpts that the author may very well have wished to keep out of the spotlight are brought out for scrutiny. Fortunately, 'Campo Santo' suffers from neither of these problems - for one thing, these separate essays have already been published in one form or another (though perhaps not in English). Another positive note is that the editor, Sven Meyer, makes no effort to impose his image of Sebald onto the reader by manipulating the ordering of the essays, as they are presented chronologically; and though we have to take on faith his choices for inclusion in this volume, it was my impression that his criteria was simply that they have not been collected in book form before.

The book is divided into two section; Prose and Essays. The first consists of four chapters, complete in themselves, in which Sebald writes of a trip to Corsica, and which were evidently to be part of another major work, but instead were laid aside as he started working on 'Austerlitz'. This section alone is well worth the price I paid. There is something about Sebald's polished work that is comforting - although not emotionally so, as the accumulated layers of implication in his work can sometimes be very dis-comforting. It is the comfort of following a sure mind at work, one that does not rely on cheap thrills or vulgar surprises with which to string the reader along. Although his peripatetic, wandering style of writing will probably only appeal to a small group - it requires attention and a prolonged denial of gratification - Sebald achieves a sort of delayed effect with it. Images, phrases and elicited emotional states from his work resurface periodically to slightly alter and to heighten the initial response. At least, this is how I felt after 'The Emigrants', and although the overall outcome is muted with the smaller sample, I sensed that same effect after the short prose pieces of 'Campo Santo'. Part history, part travelogue, and part rumination, they share that calm matter-of-factness, that inundation of detail that marked Sebald's earlier novel (if novel is even the right term).

The 'Essays' section attempts to illustrate the evolution of Sebald's critical side, with the first few examples extremely dry and academic, and the last few characteristic of the writing style with which I was already familiar. I felt these initial essays weighed down the entire book, and although the themes are intriguing, from the little I know of his later work, I believe Sebald returns to these ideas in a manner that is much easier to consume. These topics include the responsibilities (and failures) of German literature in the war's aftermath, and questions of how individuals integrate their senses and the world around us, as encapsulated, for example, by the story of Kaspar Hauser. These treatments are not poorly written, but are so ponderous and exhausting, especially in comparison to his other writing, that they were difficult for me to read through.

The book ends with a quick look at Jan Peter Tripp, Bruce Chatwin, some private ruminations and an acceptance speech to the Collegium of the German Academy - all of which are excellent, and, in the case of Chatwin, encourage me to explore further. Other topics include Kafka, the poet Ernst Herbeck, and Nabokov - fine for what they are, but not indicative of Sebald's later capability. Enthusiasts of W. G. Sebald will certainly find much that's interesting in 'Campo Santo', and those who have not enjoyed his writing in the past will probably see little to change their mind. For those who are looking at him for the first time, I would suggest skipping this one for now and beginning where I did, with 'The Emigrants'.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent collection of fugitive pieces by a master. 27 Aug 2005
By Richard S. Moore - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sebald fans should own this book. As it's a collection of disparate pieces, it hasn't quite the overwhelming impact of "The Rings of Saturn" or "Austerlitz," but every piece in the book rewards attention. The brief meditation on Bruce Chatwin is alone worth the price of the book.
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