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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry



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To purchase Unrecounted

Title: Unrecounted
Author: W.G.Sebald
Genre: Poetry
Written: (2003) (Eng. 2004)
Length: 108 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Unrecounted - US
Unrecounted - UK
Unrecounted - Canada
'Unerzählt' - Deutschland
  • 33 poems by W.G.Sebald
  • 33 lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp
  • German title: 'Unerzählt'
  • Translated and with a Translator's Note by Michael Hamburger
  • Includes essays by W.G.Sebald and Andrea Köhler (the German original of which can be found here)
  • Includes two additional poems by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
  • Includes the original German versions of Sebald's poems

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Our Assessment:

(--) : a striking volume, but an odd mix

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/3/2003 Lorenz Jäger
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 14/12/2002 Andrea Köhler
The New Republic . 25/7/2005 M.A.Bernstein
The Observer . 19/9/2004 Tim Adams
Sunday Telegraph . 22/8/2004 Joanna Kavenna
Voice Literary Supplement . Spring/2005 Brandon Stosuy
Die Welt . 23/8/2003 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Genau diese Gleichzeitigkeit von Moralität, Natur und Geheimnis muß es gewesen sein, die Sebald als Kritiker und Schriftsteller gesucht hat; hier, in der postumen Veröffentlichung, erkennt man sie in der größten Verdichtung." - Lorenz Jäger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It is regrettable that Unrecounted, another posthumous work published virtually at the same time as Campo Santo, should have received so much less attention. In many ways Unrecounted is the more powerful book, due largely to the thirty-three lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp" - Michael André Bernstein, The New Republic

  • "The result is a primer for Sebald's other work, which was always concerned with the befores and afters of photographs, the way writing revives the life that the still image has frozen." - Tim Adams, The Observer

  • "Yet they are Sebaldian sentences deprived of a paragraph, stripped of cumulative effect. The strangeness of the collection seeps into Michael Hamburger's introduction. (...) Yet the tone of Hamburger's introduction is highly ambiguous. (...) The publication of Unrecounted poses the question of how many more such posthumous works Sebald's reputation can carry, before Sebaldian comes to mean something different, something less superlative." - Joanna Kavenna, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(A)n elliptical, ultimately unsatisfying curtain call." - Brandon Stosuy, Voice Literary Supplement

  • "Zusammen mit dem ihm befreundeten Künstler hat Sebald hier zu 33 Augenpaare 33 kurze Texte geschrieben. Ein sehr erratisches Vermächtnis ist daraus geworden, so erratisch wie Sebalds früher Tod vor einem Jahr. So erratisch wie die Lebensläufe deutscher Unbehauster und Untergeher, von denen er in seinen traurig schönen Geschichten berichtet hat. So erratisch wie er selbst" - Die Welt

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:

       The centrepieces of Unrecounted are W.G.Sebald's thirty-three very short poems, juxtaposed with thirty-three lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp. A tall, thin book, the orientation of the words (and pictures) is not -- as usual -- perpendicular to the spine of the book, but parallel to it. (Oddly, this is not done on the cover.) The main reason for this appears to be to accommodate the lithographs, which are wide, thin strips that focus on the subjects' eyes.
       Tripp's lithographs could pass for black-and-white photographs, eerily close to, but not quite real. The eyes are generally well-known (and often literary): they belong to Borges, Javier Marías, Beckett, Proust, Rembrandt, Francis Bacon, translator Michael Hamburger, the Sebalds (including their dog), and others, and make for a striking gallery of gazes.
       Sebald's poems sometimes seem to reflect the pictures they accompany, but the connexion is not always apparent. The poems are extremely short -- as few as five words, rarely more than twenty --; micropoems, he called them, writes translator Hamburger. They are pithy, often elegant, sometimes entirely baffling. Coupled with the eyes, most of which stare unblinkingly at the reader, they do make quite an impression -- but it's odd stuff, the effect very different from purely literary. (The original German texts are printed, in much smaller type, at the end of the book, and to read them separately -- and apart from the lithographs -- makes for an oddly disembodied effect.)
       The short poems pose some translation problems, and Hamburger doesn't always strike the right tone. Some of Sebald's poems have a certain formality that doesn't always come across right, as when:

Sende mir bitte

den braunen Mantel
aus dem Rheingau
in welchem ich vormals
meine Nachtwandrungen machte
       is translated as:
Please send me

the brown overcoat
from the Rhine valley
in which at one time
I used to ramble by night
       The inconsistent tone of the originals, and the few words used, magnify each questionable choice, but overall Hamburger's renderings do come across well enough.

       Though the Sebald-Tripp collaboration makes up the bulk of the book (page-wise, at least), much padding has been added around it: a translator's note (cum introduction), translations of two poems by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (tributes to Sebald and Tripp), and essays by Sebald (on the pictures of Tripp) and Andrea Köhler (on the Sebald-Tripp collaboration). Hamburger's introduction, in particular, is useful, offering some (if not enough) personal background, as well as addressing some of the translation issues this volume posed. The interpretive essays by Sebald and Köhler are also of some interest, but other information about Sebald and Tripp (Tripp was "Sebald's oldest friend, ever since their schooldays", Hamburger mentions) would also have been welcome.

       An attractive and occasionally compelling volume, Unrecounted isn't entirely satisfying, the implied void -- that which remains unrecounted -- ultimately looming too large (and only awkwardly substituted for with the tacked on essays and Ensensberger poems).

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Unrecounted: Reviews: W.G.Sebald: Other books by W.G.Sebald under review: Books about W.G.Sebald under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Winfried Georg Sebald was born in 1944 and spent most of his life teaching at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. He died in 2001.

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© 2005-2009 the complete review

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