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Campo Santo (Modern Library Paperbacks) [Paperback]

W.G. Sebald
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 14, 2006 Modern Library Paperbacks
“W. G. Sebald exemplified the best kind of cosmopolitan literary intelligence–humane, digressive, deeply erudite, unassuming and tinged with melancholy. . . . In [Campo Santo] Sebald reveals his distinctive tone, as his winding sentences gradually mingle together curiosity and plangency, learning and self-revelation. . . . [Readers will] be rewarded with unexpected illuminations.”
–The Washington Post Book World

This final collection of essays by W. G. Sebald offers profound ruminations on many themes common to his work–the power of memory and personal history, the connections between images in the arts and life, the presence of ghosts in places and artifacts. Some of these pieces pay tribute to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, weaving elegiacally between past and present, examining, among other things, the island’s formative effect on its most famous citizen, Napoleon. In others, Sebald examines how the works of Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll reveal “the grave and lasting deformities in the emotional lives” of postwar Germans; how Kafka echoes Sebald’s own interest in spirit presences among mortal beings; and how literature can be an attempt at restitution for the injustices of the real world.
Dazzling in its erudition, accessible in its deep emotion, Campo Santo confirms Sebald’s status as one of the great modern writers who divined and expressed the invisible connections that determine our lives.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This brief volume is the latest and reportedly last collection of essays by German novelist and critic Sebald, who has seemed more prolific since his death in 2001 than in life. Despite the masterful translation, these essays fail to cohere, though they contain elements common to most of Sebald's work: an integration of art, politics and memory, framed by the writer's own curmudgeonly presence. The essays, however, feel unfinished, lacking polish and structural integrity. The collection is split into two parts, "Prose" and "Essays," with the first—a series of considerations of the landscape, history and social milieu of the island of Corsica—by far the more successful. The second, longer section contains an assortment of literary critical pieces, some detailed, such as a long essay about novelists writing about the destruction of German cities during WWII; others discursive, such as an apparently unfinished review of a book about Kafka's relationship with film that wanders from films Sebald himself viewed to films Kafka may or may not have seen. Although Sebald was a beautiful and intelligent writer, it's hard to see how these essays will appeal to anyone outside of scholars and already committed Sebald fans eager to read every word he ever set to paper.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Sebald, a German writer based in England until his untimely death in December 2001, is internationally revered for his elegiac novels, including the award-winning Austerlitz (2001). Susan Sontag, herself too soon gone, praised his devotion to the real and his "self-portrait of a mind." These qualities are equally potent in Sebald's stunning nonfiction, beginning with On the Natural History of Destruction (2002) and continuing in this posthumously collected set of essays. Sebald is at his intensely observant, erudite, lyrical, and provocative best in the opening pieces, the beginnings of a planned book on Corsica. Detailed descriptions of Sebald's wanderings on the island turn into musings of astonishing beauty and insight into history, environmental decimation, and our feelings about death. These arresting meditations, brilliant syntheses of thought and feeling, are followed by masterful, passionate critical essays expressing Sebald's belief in the healing power of literature and our obligation to remember the past and respect life in all its wonders and mysteries. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (February 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812972325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812972320
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
WG Sebald whose too early accidental death in 2001 is a much-lamented loss to the literary world he so quietly entered briefly before his demise. He is a unique writer, one whose style includes ramblings and crude snapshots of incidental places that support his strange tales. For many he is an acquired taste and only time will tell whether his honored books will withstand the test of immortality. And that fact is very much in keeping with the worldview of this enormously gifted observer of the human condition and the plight of the individual played against the backdrop of history and melancholy.

CAMPO SANTO is not a completely successful book in the manner of this highly praised novels. But the very fact that his early departure from the writing stream impacted readers to the point of wanting more justifies this aggregation of four chapters of a novel based on Corsica and multiple lectures and essays and addresses. The book opens with a fine essay by editor Sven Meyer, a timetable that introduces Sebald to readers unfamiliar with his odd life. The subsequent works are translated from the German by Sebald's longtime translator Anthea Bell. And that fact introduces one of the many odd quirks in Sebald's career: why should a man who spent the better part of his expatriation from his native Germany teaching in England write in German instead of his adopted language English?

Perhaps one reason lies in the focus of each of Sebald's works.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
In other words, concludes this paraphrase of Brecht, that Sebald includes in the text on the lack of German literature on the bombing of German cities, survival of mankind would be purely accidental.
Sebald was a thorough pessimist. This book is a posthumous collection of travel texts on Corsica and literary essays, mostly on German language writers, but also on Chatwin (who could hardly have been German, thinks Sebald) and Nabokov (who most decidedly wasn't either, though his categorical statement that he did not learn German in 15 years living in Berlin has been doubted).
For me, the two key texts in the collection are Campo Santo and the one about the description of destruction. In addition there are essays on Handke's Kaspar Hauser (maybe you know Herzog's movie about this odd story; Handke is not my favorite writer, nor Herzog my favorite film maker; frankly speaking Sebald had little to say about them either); on Grass's and Hildesheimer's look back on the 3rd Reich; on Peter Weiss, the man who brought the Auschwitz trials to the stage (incidentally my selected writer for my Abitur exam, centuries ago); on Jean Amery, a victim; on Kafka with a nice little piece on his trip to Paris incl. an unappetizing visit to a bordello; on Nabokov, who explored the darkness on both ends of our lives and who saw butterflies as a subspecies of ghosts.
Campo Santo, the text that gave its title to the collection, is about the history and sociology of funerals in Corsica, with reference to the anthropological literature of the globe, and its lore of death and ghosts on this island, where Christianity has a hard time against the challenge of traditional superstitions. On a global scale, the megalopolis has no space for keeping the dead intact, they must move to cyberspace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Miscellany from the last great twentieth-century writer October 13, 2013
Format:Paperback
As much as I admire W. G. Sebald and cherish several of his prose narratives (especially "The Rings of Saturn"), I am ambivalent about CAMPO SANTO. That is due in large measure to the fact that it is not an integral work intended by Sebald for publication "as is". Rather, it is a collection of sixteen miscellaneous prose writings that were dumped into one book not long after Sebald's death in December 2001. While it is true that Sebald is a sufficiently important author to warrant publication of every scrap he ever wrote (at least for the benefit of scholars and ardent fans), I can't shake the sense that CAMPO SANTO exploits the frustrated desires of his readership for "more Sebald" in the wake of his untimely death just months after publication of "Austerlitz". For me, only two of the pieces in CAMPO SANTO are on the same plane as his great prose narratives. As for the remainder, several were quite enjoyable; I was relatively indifferent to several others; and three alternately bored and bewildered me.

I will limit my remaining comments to the two that were special to me. The first is the piece that lends its title to the collection as a whole. It is one of four texts (all included in this volume) that grew out of a walking tour of Corsica that Sebald undertook in 1996. The editor, Sven Meyer, says that Sebald had begun writing a book about Corsica; from the four Corsican pieces found here, one can guess that it would have been similar to "The Rings of Saturn", though probably more personal and less anonymous. "Campo Santo" is a meditation on death and funerary practices occasioned by Sebald's visit to a graveyard in Piana, a cliff-side town on the west coast of Corsica.
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