This is NOT a stand-alone introduction. If you have not read at least two of W.G. Sebald's books, either in German or in English translation, STOP! Don't read this review and certainly don't read Lynne Sharon Scwartz's thin compendium of magazine pieces about Sebald before encountering the man himself!
The first Sebald publication in English was The Emigrants, and I'd strongly recommend it as a starting point for new readers. The translation by Michael Hulse is extremely fine, rendering the nuances of Sebald's deliberately hesitant, gently old-fashioned prose in equally modest yet evocative English. Sebald's longest and most novelistic book, Austerlitz, was his last finished work; I like the translation less, but I'm in awe of the accomplishment, both from a literary and an emotional viewpoint. Read Austerlitz second, and then if you're not similarly awed, you'll scarcely need to look at "the emergence of memory".
Memory is both Sebald's subject and his tool. Memory is the whole person, and yet memory is both partial and selective, so that no one can ever be entirely whole. As long as memory persists, no one is entirely absent, either, since memory is a clouded looking glass between the living and the dead. Sebald's narrative style operates as a kind of rummaging in memory - his own and others - as the author/narrator recounts the efforts of others to recapture the meaning of memories and remembered artifacts. One memory often blunders upon another in Sebald's highly parenthetical style. Coincidences and chances reveal unsuspected channels of memory. Memory is the only wall against final mortality.
Sebald was in his mid forties when he wrote his first book, a prose poem titled After Nature in its English translation. He was fifty-seven when he died in a auto accident, just in the first flush of literary accalim. The world of journalists and critics thus had rather little time to get acquainted with the reclusive author. Lynn Sharon Schwartz has strained the thin pottage of interviews and essays about Sebald to give us the odd gobbets of biographical nutriment that comprise her book. The most interesting pieces are the five transcribed interviews, by Eleanor Wachtel, Carole Angier, Michael Silverblatt, Joseph Cuomo, and Arthur Lubow. Several of these were prepared for publications with specifically Jewish readerships.
I've debated, even as I write, whether I should attempt to summarize any of the essays and interviews in this slender volume, or whether doing so might "spoil" the experience of reading Sebald for yourself. I've decided the latter, so my evaluation of "the emergence" can only be abstract and cursory. Sebald is both honest and elusive. Reading his responses to the questions posed by interviwers, I discovered another Sebald persona, less intellectually rarified, less somber, more amiable, more casual. Any number of suppositions I'd formed about his influences and his working methods were, by and large, confirmed. The enormous stress of being German in the post-Shoah world is never absent from his voice or his writing, but beneath his anguish and pessimism about human experience, I hear in his voice and in his writing an adoration of life such as it is, a kind of Homeric Hades where memories wander as the ghosts of heroes. Sebald fans will definitely find chunks of nutritious meat and vegetables in this little stewpot of a critical anthology.