Posts by tag: New York Times

J Cohen on Sebald

It’s not that easy to review books well, I know. Novelist Joshua Cohen probably does too, as he’s been at it for a while now reviewing for Harper’s and now the New York Times. 

In any case, there’s a few things that rankle in his review of W.G. Sebald’s latest posthumous publication, A Place in the Country (2014). I wouldn’t comment on this, except that I’ve read all of Sebald’s novels (and After Nature) twice and wrote a thesis on The Emigrants. Cohen:

W. G. Sebald was born in 1944 in Wer­tach im Allgäu in the Bavarian Alps, educated in Germany and Switzerland, taught literature in England for three decades, and between 1990 and 2001 became world famous for “Vertigo,” “The Emigrants,” “The Rings of Saturn” and “Austerlitz” — four novels about Jews, set variously in Vienna, Venice, Verona, Riva, Antwerp, Prague, Paris, Suffolk, Manchester and Long Island.

My lord, “four novels about Jews” just won’t work. Austerlitz and The Emigrants, yes, but the focus in Vertigo and The Rings of Saturn is hardly Jewry. My only guess is that he hasn’t read these novels, and so is relaying the commonly touted affiliation of Sebald with Jews and the Holocaust. Then he says

“A Place in the Country,” which contains profiles of five writers and one painter, is the third volume of nonfiction Sebaldiana to appear in English, and the most casually generous, not least because it’s the last.

“Sebaldiana”–I cringe, and ask, why? why invent this clumsy-ass word? Don’t other words work? Sebaldian, fine, but… ugh. This, and a few strange stylistic tics/flourishes, make this review rather inelegant. See that weird, smart aside concluding the opening paragraph:

Shortly after “Austerlitz” was published in English, Sebald died in a car crash. Mortal: the universal identity.

Anyways, we all err. Anyways.