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This review is from: The Emigrants (Paperback)
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.