On the Natural History of Destruction by W.G. Sebald

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W.G. Sebald completed this extraordinary and important -- and already controversial -- book before his untimely death in December 2001.

On the Natural History of Destruction is W.G. Sebald’s harrowing and precise investigation of one of the least examined “silences” of our time. In it, the acclaimed novelist examines the devastation of German cities by Allied bombardment, and the reasons for the astonishing absence of this unprecedented trauma from German history and culture.

This void in history is in part a repression of things -- such as the death by fire of the city of Hamburg at the hands of the RAF -- too terrible to bear. But rather than record the crises about them, writers sought to retrospectively justify their actions under the Nazis. For Sebald, this is an example of deliberate cultural amnesia; his analysis of its effects in and outside Germany has already provoked angry and painful debate.

Sebald’s incomparable novels are rooted in meticulous observation; his essays are novelistic. They include his childhood recollections of the war that spurred his horror at the collective amnesia around him. There are moments of black humour and, throughout, the unmatched sensitivity of Sebald’s intelligence. This book is a vital study of suffering and forgetting, of the morality hidden in artistic decisions, and of both compromised and genuine heroics.

From the Hardcover edition.

About W.G. Sebald

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W. G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, Germany, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland, and Manchester. He taught at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, for thirty years, becoming professor of European literature in 1987, and from 1989 to 1994 was the first director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. His previously translated books-The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Vertigo, and Austerlitz-have won a number of international awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Berlin Literature Prize, and the LiteraTour Nord Prize. He died in December 2001.Iain Galbraith was born in Glasgow in 1956 and studied modern languages and comparative literature at the universities of Cambridge, Freiburg, and Mainz, where he taught for several years. He has edited works by Stevenson, Hogg, Scott, Boswell, and Conrad, and contributed essays to many books and journals in the U.K., France, and Germany. He is a widely published translator of German-language writing, especially poetry, into English, winning the John Dryden Prize for Literary Translation in 2004.
Published February 11, 2003 by Random House. 226 pages
Genres: History, War, Literature & Fiction, Business & Economics, Education & Reference, Travel, Professional & Technical, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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The Guardian

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On the Natural History of Destruction by WG Sebald translated by Anthea Bell Hamish Hamilton £16.99, pp205 More people than ever before now believe that the most important thing about themselves may be the things that they cannot remember.

Feb 23 2003 | Read Full Review of On the Natural History of Des...

The Guardian

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On the Natural History of Destruction by WG Sebald, trans Anthea Bell 205pp, Hamish Hamilton, £16.99 The death just over a year ago of WG Sebald, at the age of 57, was a loss not only to literature but to Europe and, it is not too much to say, to the world.

Feb 22 2003 | Read Full Review of On the Natural History of Des...

Publishers Weekly

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The four essays gathered here find Sebald turning his luminous intelligence and rich, sometimes caustic prose on major figures of postwar German literature.

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London Review of Books

Sebald asked why ‘the sense of unparalleled national humiliation felt by millions in the last years of the war had never really found verbal expression, and those directly affected by the experience neither shared it with each other nor passed it on to the next generation.’ Destruction on a scale...

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