In the novel, "The Emigrants" , published in 1993, W.G. Sebald traces the lives of four exiles from Germany. In each story, he comes closer and closer to the subject of the Holocaust from which Sebald himself might be fleeing, at least in memory.
The story of Max Ferber, the artist, is the most telling. The narrator in the story first meets Max in Birmingham, England where Max has a studio.Twenty-two years later, when he returns to the city, he finds that Max has become a famous artist,in spite of his habit of continuously rubbing out the canvas until the survace is almost obliterating leaving just a few lines. What remained was a "portrait of great vividness".
The narrator feels compelled to visit Bad Kissingen, a spa in Bavaria, where Max grew up, despite his aversion to Germany. "When I think of Germany, he writes, "if feels as if there were some kind of insanity lodged in my head."
The manner in which Max works, recovering with great difficulty,"scenes and images of 30 years before that were strangely threatening", is similar to the way the author writes, "falling into memory lapses", but achieving pictures of the past of great clarity with a few strokes of his pen.
This juxtaposition of travel, memory and fictional personal histories. a style invented by Sebald, effectively illuminates the core of the novel which is the destruction wrought by the Holocaust. Perhaps the writer can approach this topic only in this alternately hidden and revealing way. Certainly, he depicts lives lost, homes destroyed and histories concealed in a unique and heartbreaking manner.
This report prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson