Synopses & Reviews
A Place in the Country
is W. G. Sebald’s meditation on the six artists and writers who shaped his creative mind — and the last of this great writer’s major works to be translated into English.
This extraordinary collection of interlinked essays about place, memory, and creativity captures the inner worlds of five authors and one painter. In his masterly and mysterious style — part critical essay, part memoir — Sebald weaves their lives and art with his own migrations and rise in the literary world.
Here are people gifted with talent and courage yet in some cases cursed by fragile and unstable natures, working in countries inhospitable or even hostile to them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is conjured on the verge of physical and mental exhaustion, hiding from his detractors on the island of St. Pierre, where two centuries later Sebald took rooms adjacent to his. Eighteenth-century author Johann Peter Hebel is remembered for his exquisite and delicate nature writing, expressing the eternal balance of both the outside world and human emotions. Writer Gottfried Keller, best known for his 1850 novel Green Henry, is praised for his prescient insights into a Germany where “the gap between self-interest and the common good was growing ever wider.”
Sebald compassionately re-creates the ordeals of Eduard Mörike, the German Romantic poet beset by mood swings, depression, and fainting spells in an increasingly shallow society, and Robert Walser, the institutionalized author whose nearly indecipherable scrawls seemed an attempt to “duck down below the level of language and obliterate himself” (and whose physical appearance and year of death mirrored those of Sebald’s grandfather). Finally, Sebald spies a cognizance of death’s inevitability in painter Jan Peter Tripp’s lovingly exact reproductions of life.
Featuring the same kinds of suggestive and unexplained illustrations that appear in his masterworks Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn, and translated by Sebald’s colleague Jo Catling, A Place in the Country is Sebald’s unforgettable self-portrait as seen through the experiences of others, a glimpse of his own ghosts alongside those of the men who influenced him. It is an essential addition to his stunning body of work.
“Few writers have traveled as quickly from obscurity to the sort of renown that yields an adjective as quickly as German writer W. G. Sebald (1944–2001), and now Sebaldian is as evocative as Kafkaesque. Sebald is that rare being: an inimitable stylist who creates extraordinary sentences that, like crystals, simultaneously refract and magnify meaning. This posthumous collection, a boon to Sebald admirers, is a series of tributes to writers and artists Sebald admires and feels affinity with....All of Sebald’s subjects had uneasy relations with their times and with themselves: ‘Exile, as [Gottfried] Keller describes it, is a form of purgatory located just outside the world.’ One does not have to leave home to feel bereft, and Sebald is the great contemporary master of this liminal territory.” Booklist
“An intimate anatomy of the pathos, absurdity and perverse splendour of trying to find patterns in the chaos of the world.” The Telegraph
“This illuminating collection shows a writer at his most inquisitive, gazing deeply under the surface of things and grappling with the difficulties of personal and collective memory.” Financial Times
“[A Place in the Country is] illuminating for its insight into the author’s work and its obsessions, themes, and observations on home and exile....Contemplating the work of others, Sebald writes from a writer’s rather than a reader’s perspective, of one who shares the affliction....This last word from the novelist provides a nice footnote on his own writing.” Kirkus Reviews
“Catling’s translation will be welcomed by his fans. Catling taught with Sebald in the last decade of his life, and her flowing translation pays crucial attention to the prosody and contours of Sebald’s sentences.” Publishers Weekly
“The secret of Sebald’s appeal is that he saw himself in what now seems almost an old-fashioned way as a voice of conscience, someone who remembers injustice, who speaks for those who can no longer speak.” The New York Review of Books
About the Author
W. G. Sebald
was born in Wertach im Allgäu, Germany, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland, and Manchester. He taught at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, for thirty years, becoming professor of European literature in 1987, and from 1989 to 1994 was the first director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. His books The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Vertigo,
have won a number of international awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times
Book Award, the Berlin Literature Prize, and the LiteraTour Nord Prize. He died in December 2001.
Translator Jo Catling joined the University of East Anglia as Lecturer in German Literature and Language in 1993, teaching German and European literature alongside W. G. Sebald. She has published widely on Sebald and Rainer Maria Rilke.