In 1996, Angier was asked to review The Emigrants, the first book of Sebald’s to be translated into English, and read it in a single night.
The book consists of four stories about men who die from the delayed effects of catastrophe.
Three are Jewish. Two of them had their lives upended by the Nazis.
The fourth man is the German valet, traveling companion, and lover of the scion of a Jewish banking family from New York.
Sebald disavowed the term Holocaust writer, and indeed the Holocaust forms just one piece of his vision of modernity as an ongoing disaster and a march toward the total destruction of nature.
Yet the Holocaust holds a privileged place in Sebald’s worldview.
He told interviewers that it “cast a very long shadow over my life” because he grew up in an Alpine corner of Germany, blissfully unaware of the past (he was born in 1944, just before the end of World War II), and “I don’t really know how I deserved it.”
Angier agrees that Holocaust writer is inadequate, even as she anoints him “the German writer who most deeply took on the burden of German responsibility for the Holocaust”
—a “survivor’s guilt” that, as the daughter of Jewish parents who barely escaped from Nazi Vienna, she thinks “all Germans should feel.”
Shortly after reading The Emigrants, she went to Sebald’s office at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, where he had been teaching on and off for more than 20 years, to interview him for The Jewish Quarterly.
读完《移民》后不久，她来到位于诺里奇的东英吉利大学(University Of East Anglia)塞巴尔德的办公室，塞巴尔德在那里断断续续地教了20多年书，她为《犹太季刊》采访了他
She had questions. Was The Emigrants fact or fiction? Who was this German who wrote about the tragedy of Jews?
A quarter of a century later, Angier, the author of biographies of Jean Rhys and Primo Levi, has produced a suitably unorthodox life of this singular writer.
That was the only kind circumstances permitted.
Sebald’s widow refused access to any material relating to his family.
Without permission from his estate, Angier couldn’t quote directly from some privately held sources, even certain letters to which she had access, or cite his published works at any length.
Angier’s solution is to cut back and forth among the usual portrayal of an artist’s ascent, in which she captures glimpses of the man;
astute critical assessments of the work; and vivid accounts of her quest for the people and places that appear in his writing, many of them barely disguised.
Her strategy pays off: This is an insightful, compulsively readable book.