So I'm taking this course on the contemporary European novel, and how the genre is shaping the collective idea of Europe, and for our first full text we're reading The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald. He took some getting used to, but after reading the first and last chapters of The Rings of Saturn and learning quite a bit about Sir Thomas Browne (who I had run into last semester in studying Virginia Woolf) and silk production in the process, I found him much easier to digest. It's reading with a very polished facade - all the information is precisely placed and comes together too conveniently at times, and the effect is this perfect little universe of tightly packaged truths.
Born in 1944, Sebald grew up in Germany in the aftermath of the second World War, a place that hid from its history. He wasn't even aware the Holocaust had occurred until he was seventeen. I think that this shock to his reality has left scars evident in his writing; the compulsion to create these self-contained universes of stable clusters of knowledge must stem from the trauma of having his world view shattered as an adolescent. I wish I could ask him. He died so recently that it seems almost possible. He writes about memory and mortality with a reverence that I really connect to, but I am trying to remain skeptical of him, because everything is just too neat to remain unquestioned. And maybe that's exactly what he's getting at.