Thursday, 23 August 2012

Book 59 of 2012: The Emigrants

When I saw the list of required reading for my OU literature course that I'm due to start at the end of next month, I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Instead I've been pleasantly surprised; I'm not sure if I was expecting a bunch of dusty old novels or hidden messages that I was supposed to decipher, but thus far I've enjoyed the books I've read.

The last one I read was The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald; tells the stories of four Jewish emigrants during the last century. It's little more than a snapshot into their lives as the author knew them but you do get an interesting glimpse of the people and their lives, and by association, the author's life as well.

Excuse the cold & flu capsules and just look at the book cover ;-)
I quite enjoyed this book. I've always enjoyed learning about the lives of other people, especially people from different cultures and countries and this ticked that box. It was also interesting to see how those people adjusted from life in their original country to the country that they moved to and I liked how the author was linked to the people.

It was a very quick read. I read it in less than three days which surprised me. It's an average-sized book but the print was larger than other books I've read recently. It's also peppered with photographs which broke up the story a little. I was a little disappointed by the lack of captions to the photos, some were of people but I couldn't tell who was who. I realise that the photos were a bit of a bonus but I think if you're going to put them there, you might as well explain who the people are.

Based on what I'd read about this book beforehand I was expecting the four individual stories to cross paths somehow. I kept on looking out for mentions of the others during the first three and then was expecting them all to come together at the end of the fourth, which obviously wasn't the case. I suppose that's because those are the sorts of stories that I'm used to, and in a way they were all interlinked through the relationship with the author. But it did feel rather like four short narratives rather than one long narrative focusing on different people.

There was a certain poetic element to the text which I enjoyed, which I think helped me to read it so quickly. The author was also very good at describing the scenes so that I could picture it well, even without the photos. I will admit that when I was reading the first part of the book it took me a while to realise that the events were taking place in Germany. I can't help but wonder how the translation compares to the original German.

I'm curious to see how this will be tackled in my course. I've only got a few more weeks to wait before it starts and I'm hoping to get my coursebooks soon so I can start investigating exactly what's going to be covered. Looking at it from a perspective of my last course, it made me realise that you have to appreciate where the author is coming from when the book is written. Without knowledge of what live was like for Jews during the 20th Century a large portion of this book probably would lose its impact.

"Memory, he added in a postscript, often strikes me as a kind of dumbness. It makes one's head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down on the earth from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds."Page 145

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