Save Story Save this story for later. I met Martin Ostwald in , shortly after I became friends with his son David, whose son was in the same kindergarten class as mine. By then, Martin had retired from his position as a classics professor at Swarthmore, where he had taught for many years. On holidays and long weekends, he and his wife, Lore, would sometimes drive from Pennsylvania to see their son and his family in New York, and it was on one of these visits that David arranged for us to meet over dinner. I immediately took a liking to this elderly gentleman with a thick German accent who wore a jacket and tie, always with a tie clip, David said, even to rake leaves or shovel snow, and whose Old World tact and bonhomie made him so beloved of his former students that many had emulated their mentor, becoming university professors themselves.

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From to , he lived in Sonthofen. His father remained a detached figure, a prisoner of war until ; a grandfather was the most important male presence in his early years. Sebald was shown images of the Holocaust while at school in Oberstdorf and recalled that no one knew how to explain what they had just seen. The Holocaust and post-war Germany are central themes in his work.

Sebald studied German and English literature first at the University of Freiburg and then at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he received a degree in He returned to St. Gallen in Switzerland for a year hoping to work as a teacher but could not settle. Sebald married his Austrian-born wife, Ute, in In he became the founding director of the British Centre for Literary Translation.

Sebald died while driving near Norwich in December They are, in particular, attempts to reconcile himself with, and deal in literary terms with, the trauma of the Second World War and its effect on the German people. In On the Natural History of Destruction , he wrote a major essay on the wartime bombing of German cities and the absence in German writing of any real response.

His concern with the Holocaust is expressed in several books delicately tracing his own biographical connections with Jews. They are notable for their curious and wide-ranging mixture of fact or apparent fact , recollection and fiction, often punctuated by indistinct black-and-white photographs set in evocative counterpoint to the narrative rather than illustrating it directly.

His novels are presented as observations and recollections made while travelling around Europe. They also have a dry and mischievous sense of humour. London: Hamish Hamilton. Nach der Natur. Ein Elementargedicht English ed. London: Harvill. Die Ausgewanderten. Die Ringe des Saturn. Eine englische Wallfahrt English ed. Logis in einem Landhaus. English ed. Austerlitz For Years Now. London: Short Books. Campo Santo, Prosa, Essays English ed.


W. G. Sebald and the Emigrants

Selwyn fought in the First World War and has an interest in gardening and tending to animals. He commits suicide by inserting a gun in his mouth. A quarter Jewish , he found employment difficult in the period leading up to the Second World War , although he eventually served in the Wehrmacht. Teaching in the small school after the war, Bereyter found a passion for his students while living a lonely, quiet life.


The Emigrants

It was like a giant cheese wedge. The moral of the story is that I have a difficult time focusing my attention on airplanes. Sebald, however, overpowered my situational A. Again, I want to emphasize that Sebald earned my devoted attention against all odds. On the Phoenix-to-Chicago portion of my sojourn, I was delighted but leery that the plane seemed ready for take-off, but my neighbor had not arrived. My fate for the next three hours or so had been thereby telegraphed. And -- yes!


W. G. Sebald




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