The first of W.G. Sebald's non-fiction books to be translated into English, "On the Natural History of Destruction" explores German writers' strange silence about a moment of mass destruction. In the last years of World War II, a million tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on one hundred and thirty-one German towns and cities. Six hundred ...
The first of W.G. Sebald's non-fiction books to be translated into English, "On the Natural History of Destruction" explores German writers' strange silence about a moment of mass destruction. In the last years of World War II, a million tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on one hundred and thirty-one German towns and cities. Six hundred thousand civilians died, and three and a half million homes were destroyed. When it has cast such a very dark shadow over his life and work, Sebald asks, how have so many writers allowed themselves to write it out of their experience and avoid articulating the horror? W.G. Sebald's "On the Natural History of Destruction" sparked a wide-ranging debate in the German press. "Sebald makes exquisite art out of vile history". (Boyd Tonkin, "Independent"). "One of the most important writers of our time". (A.S. Byatt, "New Statesman"). "Demands to be read for its grand emotional power...it absorbs and horrifies and illuminates". ("Scotsman"). "Brilliant and disturbing". (Antony Beevor, "The Times"). W.G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and settled permanently in England in 1970, where he was Professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia until his death in 2001. He is the author of four works of fiction: "The Emigrants", which won the Berlin Literature Prize, the Heinrich Heine Prize, and the Joseph Breitbach Prize; "The Rings of Saturn"; "Vertigo"; and "Austerlitz", which was awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Alongside this stand books of poetry "For Years Now", "After Nature", "Unrecounted", and "Across the Land and the Water", and the non-fiction books "On the Natural History of Destruction" and "Campo Santo".
If ones wishes to understand the impact of WW II on THE GERMANS--and one should, whatever one's immediate reaction to that concept--then reading this book will present it in the sparest, most economical and almost beautiful prose. As one who came to know the country living there in the 1960's, I found the late Mr. Sebald to be the first person to articulate not so much what terrors the German civilian population had suffered, but how the inescapable recognition of their country's total guilt in launching the war had created a conspiracy of silence, even among the fellow victims. This book deserves that overworked word masterpiece.
Publishers Weekly, 2002-12-16 Shortly before his untimely death last year, Sebald had published to great acclaim Austerlitz, the NBCC Prize-winning fourth of his novel-memoirs that appeared in rapid succession. Now comes this slim collection of four essays addressing the same themes that preoccupied Sebald in Austerlitz and his other major works-memory and survival in an era marked by so much wanton cruelty. The four essays gathered here find Sebald turning his luminous intelligence and rich, sometimes caustic prose on major figures of postwar German literature. Sebald can be a devastating critic: he dislikes melodrama and falsehood, is inspired by crisp, serious prose and veracity. In essays on Alfred Andersch, Jean Amery and Peter Weiss, Sebald suggests that great writing is underpinned by moral fortitude. In "Air War and Literature," Sebald criticizes the silence of postwar German literature on the starvation, mutilations and killings caused by Allied bombings. The essay provoked a major controversy when it appeared in Germany in 1999. Some commentators were dismayed that Sebald chose to revisit those difficult times and to attack, with his full ironic and sardonic powers, a number of revered figures in German literature. Sebald was dismayed that his comments provoked an outpouring of support from those who could talk only about German suffering and Jewish conspiracies. But only at the very end, almost as an afterthought, does Sebald place this suffering in historical context, as the consequence of German policies of total war and the Holocaust. "Air War and Literature" is an important but flawed effort by a writer who always demanded unflinching engagement with the past. B&w photos. (On sale Feb. 11) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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