W.G. Sebald

W. G. Sebald was born Winfried George Maximillian Sebald in Wertach im Allgäu, in the Bavarian Alps in 1944. From 1975 he taught at the University of East Anglia, became Professor of German in 1986, and was the first director of the British Centre for Translation. He won the Berlin Literature, Literatur Nord, and Mörike Prizes, as well as the Johannes Bobrowski medal, plus the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction (The Rings of Saturn). New Directions was the first to publish his book here: The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, and Vertigo. He died in an automobile accident in Norfolk, England, near his home in Norwich in East Anglia, England, on December 14, 2001.

Sebald Set

Fiction by

Translated from the German by Michael Hulse

New Directions is delighted to announce beautiful new editions of these three classic Sebald novels, including his two greatest works, The Emigrants and The Rings of Saturn. All three novels are distinguished by their translations, every line of which Sebald himself made pitch-perfect, slaving to carry into English all his essential elements: the shadows, the lambent fallings-back, nineteenth-century Germanic undertones, tragic elegiac notes, and his unique, quiet wit.
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The Emigrants

Fiction by

Translated from the German by Michael Hulse

The four long narratives in The Emigrants appear at first to be the straightforward biographies of four Germans in exile. Sebald reconstructs the lives of a painter, a doctor, an elementary-school teacher, and Great Uncle Ambrose. Following (literally) in their footsteps, the narrator retraces routes of exile which lead from Lithuania to London, from Munich to Manchester, from the South German provinces to Switzerland, France, New York, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Along with memories, documents, and diaries of the Holocaust, he collects photographs—the enigmatic snapshots which stud The Emigrants and bring to mind family photo albums.…
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Vertigo

Fiction by

Translated from the German by Michael Hulse

Perfectly titled, Vertigo —W.G. Sebald’s marvelous first novel — is a work that teeters on the edge: compelling, puzzling, and deeply unsettling. An unnamed narrator, beset by nervous ailments, journeys across Europe to Vienna, Venice, Verona, Riva, and finally to his childhood home in a small Bavarian village. He is also journeying into the past. Traveling in the footsteps of Stendhal, Casanova, and Kafka, the narrator draws the reader, line by line, into a dizzying web of history, biography, legends, literature, and — most perilously — memories.…
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The Rings of Saturn

Fiction by

Translated from the German by Michael Hulse

The Rings of Saturn, with its curious archive of photographs, records a walking tour of the eastern coast of England. A few of the things that cross the path and mind of its narrator (who both is and is not Sebald) are lonely eccentrics. Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson”, the natural history of the herring, Borges, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, Sir Thomas Browne’s skull, recession-hit seaside towns, Joseph Conrad, the once-thriving silk industry of Norwich, Swinburne, the dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, and the massive bombings of WWII.…
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Unrecounted

Poetry by Jan Peter Tripp

Translated by Michael Hamburger

W.G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp were friends from their schooldays. Unrecounted combines 33 of what W.G. Sebald called his “micro-poems”—miniatures as unclassifiable as all his works—with 33 lithographs by the acclaimed artist Jan Peter Tripp. The art and the poems do not explain one another, but rather engage in a kind of dialog. “The longer I look at the pictures of Jan Peter Tripp,” Sebald comments in his essay, “the better I understand that behind the illusions of the surface, a dread-inspiring depth is concealed.…
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Urn Burial

Nonfiction by Thomas Browne

With a contribution by

Hydriotaphia, or Urn Burial, is one of the pinnacles of Renaissance scholarship and without doubt one of the great essays in English literature. Beginning with observations on the recent discovery of Roman antiquities in the form of burial urns, Browne’s associative mind wanders to elephant graveyards, to pre-Christian cremation ceremonies, and finally to the idea of Christian burial. Browne then explores, with a more melancholic meditation, man’s struggles with mortality and the uncertainty of his fate and fame in the living world.…
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[O]ne of the most deeply serious and ambitious contemporary authors, whose fraught intelligence had reckoned, and self-reckoned, with the gravest questions of European history, and who had fearlessly founded a new literary form—combining essay, fiction, and photography—in order to probe those questions in new ways.

—James Wood

The Emigrants is one of the best novels to appear since World War II.

Review of Contemporary Fiction

W. G. Sebald’s [early death is] much lamented by admirers of his too few books, chiefly The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, and Austerlitz. Readers of these four essay-fictions know that Sebald exemplified the best kind of cosmopolitan literary intelligence - humane, digressive, deeply erudite, unassuming and tinged with melancholy. The last quality is particularly important, for if one had to characterize Sebald’s ethos - the mood he generates on the page, the themes that haunt him - one could hardly do better than borrow the title of the famous essay by Freud: ‘Mourning and Melancholy.’

The Washington Post

Tragic, stunningly beautiful, strange and haunting. The secret of Sebald’s appeal is that he saw himself in what now seems almost an old-fashioned way as a voice of conscience, someone who remembers injustice, who speaks for those who can no longer speak.

The New York Review of Books

In Sebald’s writing, everything is connected, everything webbed together by the unseen threads of history, or chance, or fate, or death… beautiful and unsettling, elevated into an art of the uncanny - an art that was, in the end, Sebald’s strange and inscrutable gift.

Slate

A writer of almost unclassifiable originality, but whose voice we recognize as indispensable and central to our time.

The New York Times Book Review

One of the most mysteriously sublime of contemporary writers.

—James Wood

A writer whose work belongs on the high shelf alongside that of Kafka, Borges, and Proust.

The New York Times Book Review

The first thing to be said about W. G. Sebald’s books is that they always had a posthumous quality to them. He wrote - as was often remarked - like a ghost. He was one of the most innovative writers of the late twentieth century, and yet part of this originality derived from the way his prose felt exhumed from the nineteenth.

—Geoff Dyer

Few writers have traveled as quickly from obscurity to the sort of renown that yields an adjective as quickly as German writer W. G. Sebald (1944 - 2001), and now Sebaldian is as evocative as Kafkaesque. Sebald is that rare being: an inimitable stylist who creates extraordinary sentences that, like crystals, simultaneously refract and magnify meaning.

Booklist

Sebald stands with Primo Levi as the prime speaker of the Holocaust and, with him, the prime contradiction of Adorno’s dictum that after it, there can be no art.

—Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

Tragic, stunningly beautiful, strange and haunting. The secret of Sebald’s appeal is that he saw himself in what now seems almost an old-fashioned way as a voice of conscience, someone who remembers injustice, who speaks for those who can no longer speak.

The New York Review of Books

The books are fascinating for the way they inhabit their own self-determined genre, but that’s not ultimately why they are essential reading. There is a moral magnitude and a weary, melancholy wisdom in Sebald’s writing that transcends the literary and attains something like an oracular register. Reading him feels like being spoken to in a dream. He does away with the normal proceedings of narrative fiction - plot, characterization, events leading to other events - so that what we get is the unmediated expression of a pure and seemingly disembodied voice. That voice is an extraordinary presence in contemporary literature, and it may be another decade before the magnitude - and the precise nature - of utterances are fully realized.

The New Yorker

Sebald has done what every writer dreams of doing.

—Roberta Silman, The New York Times Book Review

In Sebald’s writing, everything is connected, everything webbed together by the unseen threads of history, or chance, or fate, or death… beautiful and unsettling, elevated into an art of the uncanny - an art that was, in the end, Sebald’s strange and inscrutable gift.

Slate

Few writers have traveled as quickly from obscurity to the sort of renown that yields an adjective as quickly as German writer W. G. Sebald (1944 - 2001), and now Sebaldian is as evocative as Kafkaesque. Sebald is that rare being: an inimitable stylist who creates extraordinary sentences that, like crystals, simultaneously refract and magnify meaning.

Booklist

Sebald stands with Primo Levi as the prime speaker of the Holocaust and, with him, the prime contradiction of Adorno’s dictum that after it, there can be no art.

—Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

For all its dark contents and burden of undeclared grief, Vertigo is dizzyingly light and transparent.

—Benjamin Kunkel, The Village Voice

Out of exquisitely attuned feeling for the past, Sebald fashioned an entirely new form of literature. I’ve read his books countless times trying to understand how he did it. In the end, I can only say that he practiced a kind of magic born out of almost supernatural sensitivity.

—Nicole Krauss

A writer of almost unclassifiable originality, but whose voice we recognize as indispensable and central to our time.

The New York Times Book Review

The first thing to be said about W. G. Sebald’s books is that they always had a posthumous quality to them. He wrote - as was often remarked - like a ghost. He was one of the most innovative writers of the late twentieth century, and yet part of this originality derived from the way his prose felt exhumed from the nineteenth.

—Geoff Dyer

Few writers have traveled as quickly from obscurity to the sort of renown that yields an adjective as quickly as German writer W. G. Sebald (1944 - 2001), and now Sebaldian is as evocative as Kafkaesque. Sebald is that rare being: an inimitable stylist who creates extraordinary sentences that, like crystals, simultaneously refract and magnify meaning.

Booklist

Sublime.

—Cynthia Ozick, The New Republic

Measured, solemn, sardonic, hypnotic.

—Joshua Cohen, The New York Times Book Review

In Sebald’s writing, everything is connected, everything webbed together by the unseen threads of history, or chance, or fate, or death… beautiful and unsettling, elevated into an art of the uncanny - an art that was, in the end, Sebald’s strange and inscrutable gift.

Slate

Most writers, even good ones, write of what can be written. The very greatest write of what cannot be written. I think of Akhmatova and Primo Levi, for example, and of W. G. Sebald.

The New York Times

Sebald stands with Primo Levi as the prime speaker of the Holocaust and, with him, the prime contradiction of Adorno’s dictum that after it, there can be no art.

—Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

Sebald has done what every writer dreams of doing. The Rings of Saturn glows with the radiance and resilience of the human spirit.

—Roberta Silman, The New York Times Book Review

Is literary greatness still possible? What would a noble literary enterprise look like now? One of the few answers available to English-language readers is the work of W.G. Sebald.

—Susan Sontag, The Times Literary Supplement

Few writers make one more aware of the seductive powers of language.

—Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

An intensely personal work, showing us Sebald’s genesis as a writer, and it is constantly stimulating.

—Sebastian Shakespeare, TLS

One emerges from it shaken, seduced, and deeply impressed.

—Anita Brookner, Spectator

Sebald is a thrilling, original writer. He makes narration a state of investigative bliss. His narrative doesn’t just tell stories; it offers itself as a model of consciousness, demonstrating that to be fully aware of oneself in time is to suffer incurable vertigo. In his droll way, Sebald possesses the world-covering ambition of a magus: he wants a book to be like his old childhood atlas, made to hold… all conceivable mysteries.

—W.S. Di Piero, The New York Times Book Review

A haunting masterpiece from W.G. Sebald.

—The Washington Post

Think of W.G. Sebald as memory’s Einstein.

—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

An extraordinary palimpsest of nature, human, and literary history.

—Merle Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

Ostensibly a record of a journey on foot through coastal East Anglia, The Rings of Saturn is also a brilliantly allusive study of England’s imperial past and the nature of decline and fall, of loss and decay. The Rings of Saturn is exhilaratingly, you might say hypnotically, readable. It is hard to imagine a stranger or more compelling work.

—Robert McCrum, The London Observer

Stunning and strange. Like a dream you want to last forever.

—Roberta Silman, The New York Times

This is very beautiful, and its strangeness is what is beautiful… One of the most mysteriously sublime of contemporary writers. And here, in The Rings of Saturn, is a book more uncanny than The Emigrants.

—James Wood, The New Republic

The Emigrants is that terrifyingly rare and wonderful thing: a unique masterpiece…

—Thomas McGonigle, Chicago Tribune

W.G. Sebald has written an astonishing masterpiece: it seems perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read. Bewitching in its subtlety, sublime in its directness and in the grandeur of its subject. The Emigrants is an irresistable book.

—Susan Sontag

Sebald is a rare and elusive species, but still, he is an easy read, just as Kafka is. He is an addiction, and once buttonholed by his books, you have neither the wish nor the will to tear yourself away.

—Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Most writers, even good ones, write of what can be written. The very greates write of what cannot be written. I think of Akhmatova and Primo Levi, for example, and of W.G. Sebald.

—The New York Times

A masterpiece.

—Richard Eder, The New York Times

Stunning and strange. Like a dream you want to last forever.

—Roberta Silman , *The New York Times Book Review *

Sebald’s Unrecounted, the result of a long collaboration with a childhood friend, German artist Jan Peter Tripp, is suitably haunting.

The Guardian

An extraordinarily handsome edition of poems by the late great writer.

Confrontation

Sebald’s elliptical ‘micropoems’ evoke the metaphysical bewilderment Sebald knew so well…. Unrecounted is actually deeply consonant with his deepest impulses as a writer.

The New Republic

Think of W. G. Sebald as memory’s Einstein.

—Richard Eder , Los Angeles Times

Sebald is a rare and elusive species…But still he is an easy read, just as Kafka is…He is an addiction, and, once button-holed by his books, you have neither the wish nor the will to tear yourself away.

—Anthony Lane, New Yorker

Sebald is a thrilling, original writer. He makes narration a state of investigative bliss.

—W.S. Di Piero, New York Times Book Review

Tragic, stunningly beautiful, strange and haunting.

—*The New York Review of Books *

A masterpiece.

The New York Times
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