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the Complete Review
the complete review - essays / interviews

The Emergence of Memory

edited by
Lynne Sharon Schwartz

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the editor

To purchase The Emergence of Memory

Title: The Emergence of Memory
Authors: various
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2007)
Length: 173 pages
Availability: The Emergence of Memory - US
The Emergence of Memory - UK
The Emergence of Memory - Canada
  • Conversations with W.G.Sebald
  • With contributions by Carole Angier, Joseph Cuomo, Ruth Franklin, Michael Hofmann, Arthur Lubow, Tim Parks, Michael Silverblatt, Charles Simic, and Eleanor Wachtel.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting variety, decent introduction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 2/12/2007 David L. Ulin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Schwartz does a fine job of evoking this elusive author" - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Though the subtitle promises Conversations with W.G.Sebald, only half the pieces in The Emergence of Memory are actual interviews; the rest are critical and review essays. It's not a bad mix: the essays offer a sort of balance, the analysis and more removed perspective one that helps shed more light on the author and his works.
       Though Sebald was not that young when he died, he was, in a sense, a young author, new to the scene and just establishing himself as an author: his first book was only published when he was in his mid-forties, in 1988, and the first English translation only appeared in 1996 -- only five years before his death. The interviews begin to give a sense of the man, one who eschewed modern technology (refusing even a computer at work), something of a constant wanderer and loner, desperate to distance himself from Germany, comfortable in out-of-the way Norwich. There's no sense of his domestic life (he was married and had a daughter), but he still bristles when talking about his parents -- and, indeed, that whole generation.
       His judgement can sound harsh:

CAROLE ANGIER: Can you talk to your parents about it ?
WGS: Not really. Though my father is still alive, at eighty-five ... it's the ones who have a conscience who die early, it grinds you down. The fascist supporters live forever. Or the passive resisters. That's what they all are now in their own minds. I always try to explain to my parents that there is no difference between passive resistance and passive collaboration -- it's the same thing. But they cannot understand that.
       He's certainly not forgiving:
His father, an officer promoted through the ranks, never discussed his wartime experiences. When I said offhandedly that by now his mother, in her late eighties, could probably no longer remember the war years, he replied quickly, speaking of his mother's generation: "They could if they wanted to."
       Memory is, of course, one of the big themes in his work -- as are the seemingly coincidental intersections of lives and events. He revels in coincidence, and among the interesting sections are Sebald's descriptions of building up a work on the basis of fragments and odds and ends, and making connexions from them. His use of photographs -- and the fact that they are not all authentic -- is also discussed, both by him and in the essays, something that looks like 'fact' but still allows for many uses. There is also some useful background information about many of the figures and events in his work, often based, as they are, on real people and events, such as the local part-Jewish schoolteacher who returned after the war and then committed suicide.
       There's some discussion of his distinctive style, too, Sebald acknowledging the influence of 19th century German prose writers such as Gottfried Keller and Adalbert Stifter, as well the specific influence of Thomas Bernhard.
       The essays also provide useful readings and overviews of Sebald's work, and there's at least some mention of the difficulties some have had with his work -- discussion of the German reception of On the Natural History of Destruction, for example, as well as one essay, by Michael Hofmann, that is less enthusiastic about Sebald (and wherein Hofmann expresses considerable surprise that, given the: "complete absence of humor, charm, grace, touch" in Sebald's works they would enjoy such success in England). (Tellingly, however, the Hofmann piece is the shortest in the book.)
       Charles Simic's essay gives a bit of a foreign perspective, as he can draw upon his own experiences in Yugoslavia during World War II, but perhaps the one thing that really feels missing in this colection is a German point of view, either in an interview or essay. Sebald's uncompromising stance (and his move away from Germany) surely influences the reception of his work there, and while Ruth Franklin does discuss some German reactions to some of his work it would have been interesting to see how German interviewers and/or commentators addressed him and these many issues.
       The Emergence of Memory does cover a lot of ground and is a solid introduction to both the man and his work, and it's accessible and useful both to those unfamiliar with the work and those who have read some or all of it. Certainly, there's a lot more to Sebald and his work, but as a quick, varied introduction and overview -- and a starting point for much more discussion -- The Emergence of Memory is well worthwhile.

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The Emergence of Memory: Reviews: W.G.Sebald: Books by W.G.Sebald under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Editor:

       Lynne Sharon Schwartz is an award-winning author and translator.

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© 2007-2009 the complete review

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