A Sad Anniversary

Yesterday, Dec. 14, 2011, was the tenth anniversary of the untimely death of W.G. Sebald, my all-time favorite writer, and a man who was, I think we can all agree, among the greatest writers of his time if not the greatest.

However, there is some small good news to report. Out now in the UK, and forthcoming in the US, is Across the Land and Water, Selected Poems 1964-2001, an overview of various bits of verse written throughout Sebald’s life. And even more excitingly, though it has yet to be officially announced, Amazon.co.uk lists A Place in the Country, a translation of Sebald’s last essay collection Logis in einem Landhaus for release next year. That collection includes two essays already available in english – on Jan Peter Tripp in Unrecounted and on Robert Walser as an introduction to The Tanners – as well as several not yet seen in our language. I could not be more excited! Sebald’s creative career was brutally brief; even so, there is enough to last a lifetime of study, and the prospect of more to come fills me with happiness.

Though his readership is now vast, his influence is harder to quantify, in part because there are few writers who have taken up his highly idiosyncratic style; rather, his mood and obsessions have filtered into a generation of writers. Of recent novels I can think only of Teju Cole’s Open City, which reads almost like a parody of Sebald, and Laird Hunt’s The Exquisite, the latter an homage to Sebald owing nothing stylistically to the master; instead Hunt references objects and stories from The Rings of Saturn, and his novel – which is excellent, and highly recommended by me – is all the better for it.

If you have not yet read Sebald, you are missing out on one of life’s great, if peculiar pleasures. No one I have recommended him to has come away disappointed. Any of his “novels” will do to start, although people seem to find Austerlitz or The Emigrants the easiest way in, while the incomparable glories of The Rings of Saturn await. Why not take this sad anniversary as an opportunity to find your way into one of the great modern literary canons? You will not regret it.

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