In this final collection of sixteen essays by W. G. Sebald, one of the most elegant and incisive authors of our time, all of his trademark themes are contained–the power of memory and personal history, the connections between images in the arts and life, the presence of ghosts in places and artifacts.
Four pieces pay tribute to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, weaving elegiacally between past and present. In “A Little Excursion to Ajaccio,” Sebald visits the birthplace of Napoleon and muses on the hints in his childhood home of a great man’s future. Inspired by an Italian cemetery, “Campo Santo” is a reverie on death, ranging from the ambiguity of inscriptions to the size of and adornment of gravestones to the blood-soaked legend of Saint Julien.
Sebald also 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 place beside Proust and Nabokov, great writers who perceive the invisible connections that determine our lives.
"Sebald was a polymath whose hybrid narratives link him with such resisters of fixed classification as Borges, Calvino,the antiquarian Robert Burton, and Guy Davenport....[I]t's good to have these further products of his life-affirming imagination and spirit."
"Sebald as reader, like Sebald as writer, homes in utterly unselfconsciously on the aspects of these writers that interest him most, often to the total disregard of anything else about their work. Though Sebald taught literature at the University of East Anglia for 30 years, his anxiety about academic life betrays itself in his charming yet highly untraditional criticism, which is much more deeply influenced by his personal obsessions than by trends in literary scholarship. Even the essays here that adhere most strictly to scholarly conventions--several first appeared in academic journals--are typically meandering almost in defiance of their academic trappings....'There are many forms of writing; only in literature, however, can there be an attempt at restitution over and above the mere recital of facts, and over and above scholarship.' Campo Santo demonstrates that the boundary between the two is more permeable than even Sebald thought. In whatever he wrote, from a completely realized work of fiction to the briefest book review, he found a way of achieving his moral imperative.
Ruth Franklin, Slate, 03/14/2005