A Place in the Country is W. G. Sebald’s meditation on the six artists and writers who shaped his creative mind—and the last of this great writer’s major works to be translated into English.
This extraordinary collection of interlinked essays about place, memory, and creativity captures the inner worlds of five authors and one painter. In his masterly and mysterious style—part critical essay, part memoir—Sebald weaves their lives and art with his own migrations and rise in the literary world.
Here are people gifted with talent and courage yet in some cases cursed by fragile and unstable natures, working in countries inhospitable or even hostile to them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is conjured on the verge of physical and mental exhaustion, hiding from his detractors on the island of St. Pierre, where two centuries later Sebald took rooms adjacent to his. Eighteenth-century author Johann Peter Hebel is remembered for his exquisite and delicate nature writing, expressing the eternal balance of both the outside world and human emotions. Writer Gottfried Keller, best known for his 1850 novel Green Henry, is praised for his prescient insights into a Germany where “the gap between self-interest and the common good was growing ever wider.”
Sebald compassionately re-creates the ordeals of Eduard Mörike, the German Romantic poet beset by mood swings, depression, and fainting spells in an increasingly shallow society, and Robert Walser, the institutionalized author whose nearly indecipherable scrawls seemed an attempt to “duck down below the level of language and obliterate himself” (and whose physical appearance and year of death mirrored those of Sebald’s grandfather). Finally, Sebald spies a cognizance of death’s inevitability in painter Jan Peter Tripp’s lovingly exact reproductions of life.
Featuring the same kinds of suggestive and unexplained illustrations that appear in his masterworks Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn, and translated by Sebald’s colleague Jo Catling, A Place in the Country is Sebald’s unforgettable self-portrait as seen through the experiences of others, a glimpse of his own ghosts alongside those of the men who influenced him. It is an essential addition to his stunning body of work.
Praise for A Place in the Country
“A Place in the Country’s publication in English is something to celebrate.”—W. S. Merwin
“Out of exquisitely attuned feeling for the past, Sebald fashioned an entirely new form of literature. I’ve read his books countless times trying to understand how he did it. In the end, I can only say that he practiced a kind of magic born out of almost supernatural sensitivity. A Place in the Country extends the too-short time we were given in his company.”—Nicole Krauss
“Few writers have traveled as quickly from obscurity to the sort of renown that yields an adjective as quickly as German writer W. G. Sebald (1944–2001), and now Sebaldian is as evocative as Kafkaesque. Sebald is that rare being: an inimitable stylist who creates extraordinary sentences that, like crystals, simultaneously refract and magnify meaning.”—Booklist
“An intimate anatomy of the pathos, absurdity and perverse splendour of trying to find patterns in the chaos of the world.”—The Telegraph
“This illuminating collection shows a writer at his most inquisitive, gazing deeply under the surface of things and grappling with the difficulties of personal and collective memory.”—Financial Times