Review: The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald

by , under book reviews, books and reading, LibraryThing

I received a copy of The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Many thanks to the publisher, Seven Stories Press, and to LibraryThing, for the chance to obtain and review this book.

When I found out I’d won this book through the ER program, I felt guilty for requesting it, because I’ve never read anything by W. G. Sebald. However, now that I’ve read the book, I’m so glad I requested and won it. Sebald’s work sounds difficult, experimental, hard to define, but very fascinating.

The collection contains several interviews with the writer, as the subtitle states, but also several essays and reviews, and a solid introduction by the editor, Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The interviews introduce a very intelligent, humane, and likeable writer. He was serious about his work and the topics he explored, but the interviews show that Sebald had a sense of humor as well. I also found the essays to be interesting and thought-provoking: not mere book reviews, nor academic criticism heavy with literary theory, but engaging essays for serious readers.

One of the essays, by Michael Hofmann, is not complimentary, and that’s a good piece for Schwartz to include. Because Sebald’s themes were complex, his methods unusual and experimental, his books are not for everyone. Moreover, any artist who explores the rough edges of the canvas, who tries to stretch the boundaries of what is expected and accepted, is likely to stumble at times. As Schwartz says in the introduction, the “vulnerabilities” in Sebald’s work that Hofmann discusses “are real and should be taken into account in any assessment of his work.”

Having been introduced to Sebald before being introduced to his writing, in a sense, I hope to read one or two of his books for myself before too long, with The Emergence of Memory near at hand to redirect me if I start to get lost. Fans of Sebald’s books will certainly want to read this collection and likely enjoy it. In my case, I think I’ll understand and appreciate Sebald’s works a good deal more because I read this book first.

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