“W. G. Sebald exemplified the best kind of cosmopolitan literary intelligence–humane, digressive, deeply erudite, unassuming and tinged with melancholy. . . . In [Campo Santo] Sebald reveals his distinctive tone, as his winding sentences gradually mingle together curiosity and plangency, learning and self-revelation. . . . [Readers will] be rewarded with unexpected illuminations.”
–The Washington Post Book World
This final collection of essays by W. G. Sebald offers profound ruminations on many themes common to his work–the power of memory and personal history, the connections between images in the arts and life, the presence of ghosts in places and artifacts. Some of these pieces pay tribute to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, weaving elegiacally between past and present, examining, among other things, the island’s formative effect on its most famous citizen, Napoleon. In others, Sebald examines how the works of Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll reveal “the grave and lasting deformities in the emotional lives” of postwar Germans; how Kafka echoes Sebald’s own interest in spirit presences among mortal beings; and how literature can be an attempt at restitution for the injustices of the real world.
Dazzling in its erudition, accessible in its deep emotion, Campo Santo confirms Sebald’s status as one of the great modern writers who divined and expressed the invisible connections that determine our lives.
This brief volume is the latest and reportedly last collection of essays by German novelist and critic Sebald, who has seemed more prolific since his death in 2001 than in life. Despite the masterful translation, these essays fail to cohere, though they contain elements common to most of Sebald's work: an integration of art, politics and memory, framed by the writer's own curmudgeonly presence. The essays, however, feel unfinished, lacking polish and structural integrity. The collection is split into two parts, "Prose" and "Essays," with the first a series of considerations of the landscape, history and social milieu of the island of Corsica by far the more successful. The second, longer section contains an assortment of literary critical pieces, some detailed, such as a long essay about novelists writing about the destruction of German cities during WWII; others discursive, such as an apparently unfinished review of a book about Kafka's relationship with film that wanders from films Sebald himself viewed to films Kafka may or may not have seen. Although Sebald was a beautiful and intelligent writer, it's hard to see how these essays will appeal to anyone outside of scholars and already committed Sebald fans eager to read every word he ever set to paper.