The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse

Reading The Emigrants is a strange experience. It is fiction that reads like non-fiction. The novel tells the story of four unrelated people who emigrated from Germany during the 20th century, but it is written in the first person, as if the narrator is recounting these people’s experiences based on his own research. In addition, there are photographs scattered throughout the book that seem to represent the characters and settings that Sebald describes in an apparently realistic way.  

The paperback edition of the book indicates that many early reviewers considered the novel to be a masterpiece. I enjoyed Sebald’s later novel The Rings of Saturn more. I didn’t find the characters in The Emigrants especially interesting. Perhaps the reviewers were influenced by the newness of Sebald’s technique. They must have been impressed by his prose. The English translation is spare and often matter-of-fact but always beautiful. (6/30/12)