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The Emigrants

The Emigrants [Kindle Edition]

W G Sebald , Michael Hulse
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
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Amazon Review

The Emigrants is a meditation on memory and loss. Sebald re-creates the lives of four exiles-- five if you include his oblique self-portrait--through their own accounts, others' recollections and pictures and found objects. But he brings these men before our eyes only to make them fade away, "longing for extinction." Two were eventual suicides, another died in an asylum, the fourth still lived under a "poisonous canopy" more than 40 years after his parents' death in Nazi Germany.

Sebald's own longing is for communion. En route to Ithaca (the real upstate New York location but also the symbolic one), he comes to feel "like a travelling companion of my neighbour in the next lane." After the car speeds away--"the children pulling clownish faces out of the rear window--I felt deserted and desolate for a time." Sebald's narrative is purposely moth-holed (butterfly-ridden, actually--there's a recurring Nabokov-with-a-net type), an escape from the prison-house of realism. According to the author, his Uncle Ambros's increasingly improbable tales were the result of "an illness which causes lost memories to be replaced by fantastic inventions." Luckily for us, Sebald seems to have inherited the same syndrome. --Kerry Fried


"Strange, beautiful and terribly moving" (A.S. Byatt)

"This deeply moving book shames most writers with its nerve and tact and wonder" (Michael Ondaatje)

"An unconsoling masterpiece...It is exquisitely written and exquisitely translated...a true work of art" (Spectator)

"A spellbinding account of four Jewish exiles. Its restrained and meditative tone has stayed with me all year" (Nicholas Shakespeare)

"A sober delicate account of displacement, and a classic of its kind. Modest and remote, it resurrects older standards of behaviour, making most contemporary writing seem brash and immature. No book has pleased me more this year" (Anita Brookner, Spectator)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2244 KB
  • Print Length: 260 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0811213668
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital; New Ed edition (30 Nov 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,473 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle and evocative 9 April 2002
By A Customer
Sebald writes movingly of four different emigrants and ties together their sense of loss and displacement. There are common threads in each story but each life is clearly drawn and it's effect upon Sebald's own life and emotions alluded to rather than stated explicitly.
There is a real sense of place in each story & I especially enjoyed the description of Manchester in the 60's, reminding me of a world I used to know that has now passed.
I'm only sorry that there will be no more from this spare and elegant writer.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A moving book 6 Feb 2004
“The Emigrants” firs appear to be mere accounts of four different Jewish emigrants in the twentieth century. But gradually the four narratives merge into a poetic evocation of exile and loss. Mr Sebald’s precise, almost dreamlike writing – along with many beautiful photographs – works its magic. The account of the displacement of these four émigrés is both sober and delicate. Few books convey more about that complex and tragic fate. Michael Hulse’s exquisite translation really makes this book a work of art.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shadows of the past 8 Sep 2007
Memories have a strange way of clinging to people, appearing haphazardly and intermittently. Other times they may roll over an individual with such insistence it changes the course of their life. Often the mind modifies recollections over time, suggesting altered fragments of past realities when they return. Sebald is a master of searching out lost or hidden memories. In a format that goes beyond the traditional genres, he merges memoir, biography, travelogue and fiction. In an often elegiac, yet precise language with great attention to detail, he takes the reader on a winding road of discovery. He creates patterns and builds connections out of incidents and places that initially appear disjointed. In The Emigrants he applies his unique writing style and descriptive technique to the fullest.

The book consists of four independent narratives portraying four very different individuals within their social and historical context. Yet, each of them is profoundly connected to a past that each cannot escape. The oblique references to the disturbing events of the twentieth century - the two World Wars, the Holocaust - linger like a shadow behind the characters, having deeply scarred their existence. The narrator, who in part, or entirely, could be Sebald himself, is an inquisitive researcher into his subjects' lives. In his quest to comprehend each of them, he imagines himself in their shoes, traveling through many villages, towns and countries, tracing their wanderings, probing in depth their temporary existence away from their homeland and the reasons for giving up on their lives: the doctor, the teacher, the great uncle, and the painter. Sebald is a meticulous observer of locales in nature.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Survivors who didn't ... 4 Mar 2011
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
...survive. There have been literally thousands of books written about the Holocaust, and I have read my share of Primo Levi, but WG Sebald's "The Emigrants" has to be in the top five in conveying its absolute horror and devastation. He manages to accomplish this rather elliptically, and with much understatement, by depicting the lives of four individuals who "got out in time," but they were never able to overcome the terrible dislocation that occurred, and in the majority of the cases it resulted in suicide, direct, or incidental, as may very well have been the case with Levi. This dislocation has occurred to others, and continues to occur today, but in terms of graphics, I think of a drawing at a friend's house, of Andrew Jackson, holding an uprooted tree, and if one looks closely, one realizes that the tree is composed of individuals who composed the Cherokee Nation, who were forcibly relocated from their homeland by him.

"The Emigrants" is composed on the stories of four individuals, one from Lithuania, three from Germany, all of whom were very much citizens, and felt as though they belonged to their countries, but who were also Jewish, or only partially Jewish, and in varying ways were rejected by their homeland. They went, or were forced into exile. Sebald writes masterfully, and the stories mount in a rising crescendo of nuance, complexity and sorrow, from Dr. Henry Selwyn who becomes a hermit on his own estate, through the school teacher; Paul Bereyter, Jewish enough to be denied his teaching post, but not Jewish enough to prevent being drafted into the Wehrmacht; to Ambros Adlewarth, who made it to America, and served as a butler of sorts to exclusive Jewish families; and finally to Max Ferber, the artist who escaped to Manchester, England.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Separation anxiety 4 July 2002
By A.K.
The melancholy of separation 24 June, 2002
"The Emigrants" presents itself as an anthology of four biographies, of a doctor, a teacher, a valet and a painter. But it is in fact a single narrative because all four emigrants have undergone the same story and because each successive biography takes the tale a little further back towards the subject's childhood.
The tale is of middle-Europeans who were forced to leave home during the first half of the 20th century. And in leaving home they lost their identities, their sense of belonging and their sense of self. They became, in the modern jargon, emotional cripples; bereaved, but bereaved of their own roots, not only of other people. All four were Jewish, but that is incidental to the narrative of loss and is never mentioned explicitly.
"The Emigrants" is written in Sebald's characteristic cool, measured, spoken prose. Ishiguro is another practitioner of this art, so maybe it can be called the University of East Anglia style. Sebald strikes the facts clearly so they can resonate. The book reads itself easily because it is simple and about real people. The story of the valet who willed himself to die under electroconvulsive therapy made me cry.
What is not there Sebald does not replace with speculation or embroidered adjectives. So the foursome's memories fade into the past like Sebald's smudged black-and-white photos.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Emigrants
I had never heard of this author or this book until I heard a programme on Radio 4 and wanted to read it for myself. Beautiful writing. I love it.
Published 3 months ago by dorothyjean
3.0 out of 5 stars The Emigrants
Would not be my personal choice for reading; bought it as part of OU course. Extremely well written and thought provoking, rather depressing, but did not find it inspiring,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by essieb
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent service
I got the book on time and everything is well, however, the book cover was creased from wearing which wasn't mentioned in the description. However, it was a fair deal.
Published 7 months ago by Simona Kersyte
5.0 out of 5 stars Emigrants Excellence
WG Sebald is the foremost European writer of the late 20th century, though he chronicles earlier times, particularly Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, when Nazism was on the rise and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mike Collins
3.0 out of 5 stars Quality book
I purchased this book as part of a study course but didn't particularly enjoy it. The writing is excellent but I found the stories quite depressive. Price though was very good.
Published 15 months ago by Annie
4.0 out of 5 stars eminent emigrants
This is a wonderful novel of fact and fiction. Incredibly moving about lost people living anonymous lives. At times rather depressing but at the same time most rewarding. Read more
Published 15 months ago by nickyb
4.0 out of 5 stars Memorable book
This is a very unusual book in that it combined truth with ficyion and the photographs lend it an air of mystery. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Nell
5.0 out of 5 stars `Memory, he added in a postscript, often strikes me as a kind of...
There are five main emigrants in this book: Henry Selwyn (a doctor); Paul Bereyter (the narrator's teacher); Ambros Adelwarth (the narrator's great uncle, a butler); Max Ferber (a... Read more
Published on 15 Dec 2011 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
1.0 out of 5 stars Life is too short
An easy read, but pointless.A rag bag of uninspired journalism.If you think you may have less than, say, another 40 years to live, reading this is a waste of your valuable time.
Published on 22 Aug 2011 by jd
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Sublime!
I first read the Rings of Saturn a year ago and fell in love with Sebalds prose, I then read Campo Santo which I would recomend also. Read more
Published on 27 Aug 2009 by P. Root
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