As a rule, we learn very little from writers about their failed writing projects. Which author is willing to admit that a considerable part of the writing efforts were unsuccessful and that these efforts did not progress beyond a more or less extensive experimental stage. Occasionally such a failed project is mentioned – often in a anecdotal, humorous way – by successful writers, but generally only in the form that aims to portray the author as a hard-working person who usually (but not always) manages it to publish something presentable. However, in cases where an author’s entire legacy is available for literary research, one can often get a different impression, and creative failure seems to be more the norm than success, at least for authors who place high qualitative demands on themselves.
The volume The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories by the South African author Ivan Vladislavić is one of the not very many books in which a contemporary author gives the reader an insight into his writing workshop and failed attempts at storytelling. From his notebooks he made a selection of twelve (actually thirteen) ideas for stories that did not progress beyond the embryonic stage and could not be completed as intended.
Personally, I think this book of failure is extremely successful – a beautiful paradox! And by openly analyzing what these narrative ideas are all about, where they may have come from and why they ultimately failed, the author creates something new and unexpected: a collection of hybrid texts that lie somewhere on the border between narrative , essay and occasional autobiographical vignettes. Vladislavić talks about his literary influences and so, quite casually, a kind of literary genealogy emerges, and it is obviously no coincidence that this genealogy contains authors who made digression and failure, fragmentary and hybrid storytelling a principle to which they have committed themselves in their own writing. And in this neighborhood of Robert Walser and Borges, Sterne and Perec, DeLillo and Rabelais, Sebald and Calvino, Vladislavić has carved out his own niche with this small, very interesting book.
The texts in the book are on average eight to ten pages long and this concentration on the short form prevents the reader from having to suffer through long essayistic passages. Geographically and timewise, the texts cover a wide range – from Belgrade during the Second World War to Komodo and New York on September 11th – and the volume also covers stylistically a wide range. The title story, The Loss Library, can even be read as a completely well-executed story, although it is about the many unwritten books by famous authors. Since I have recently read some theoretical works on photography (Barthes, Sontag, Berger, Bonnefoy), the texts where a photo was the trigger for writing, such as in the text about Robert Walser and the other photo showing dead men – executed by the Nazis during WWII in Belgrade – that had kept their hats on. In the end, this overlay meant that the originally planned Walser story remained unfinished.
I found myself entertained in a very intelligent way while reading this book. Now I would like to read more from this obviously very interesting author. Another discovery that I owe to the Indian publisher Seagull Books, who included in this volume beautiful illustrations by Sunandini Banerjee, who has already illustrated books by Yves Bonnefoy and Thomas Bernhard.
Ivan Vladislavić: The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories, Seagull Books, Kolkata 2012
Samuel Beckett is one of the most discussed and reviewed authors of the 20th century. The pessimistic, often hopeless view of the world that the author shows us in his work appears unbearable at first glance, but the apparent senselessness and absurdity of existence is softened by the black humor typical of Beckett.
For the audience of his pieces in the 1950s, this was an unusual, and for many also shocking, approach. Beckett, the deeply private and shy man, unwillingly turned into an existentialist author par excellence – even if he rightly saw himself as a literary loner – his plays became enormous theatrical successes, their author received the Nobel Prize (one of the few cases in which the committee in Stockholm was right), in many countries his work is read in school and the author has become a modern classic.
So, there is nothing more obvious than making Beckett the subject of a modest blog post. Especially since Beckett was – and is! – a very important author for my own intellectual development. And because, after everything I know about him, he must have been a very likeable person. As is well known, this is something exceptionally rare among writers …
Since so incredibly much has been written about Beckett’s works – comparable only to Kafka in this respect -, it is difficult for me to choose one of his works for a review. The danger of repeating something that some other and possibly more erudite mind has already written in a more interesting way seems too great to me.
Instead, a few lines will follow about a book that deals with a certain, rarely noticed, but nevertheless very important aspect of Beckett’s work: his relationship to Germany and to the German language and culture.
From November 2017 to July 2018, an excellent exhibition entitled German fever, Beckett in Deutschland took place at the Literaturmuseum der Moderne (Modern Literature Museum) in tranquil Marbach am Neckar in Germany. Documents from various archives and collections were made available to the public for the first time in an excellently curated form, including the so-called German Diaries, Beckett’s notes during his extensive trip to Germany from September 1936 to April 1937.
Marbach, Schiller’s birthplace, is the seat of the Deutsche Schillerstiftung (German Schiller Foundation) and the Deutsches Literaturarchiv (German Literature Archive), in which the bequests (and pre-bequests) of many German authors are stored and scientifically edited. In addition to various other series of publications of these institutions, the Marbach catalogs and the Marbach magazine appear on a regular basis. They showcase and document the exhibitions of the museum. A fantastic treasure trove for anyone interested in German literature and I can also highly recommend a visit to the museum itself.
The double volume of the Marbacher Magazin discussed here contains, in addition to the carefully compiled catalog section with images of the exhibits and their transcription and explanation, a longer essay by the authors of the volume, Mark Nixon and Dirk Van Hulle. The result is an attractive volume of almost 250 pages. It is particularly gratifying that the band is bilingual (German / English).
In the summer of 1928, the young Beckett – at that time a poorly paid lecturer in Paris who was working on his first publications and occasionally assignments as an assistant and researcher for James Joyce – met his cousin Peggy Sinclair during a stay in Dublin and fell in love with her. At the end of August, Beckett traveled to Kassel for the first time, where Peggy lived with her parents, who were tremendously interested in art. Even before meeting Peggy, Beckett had begun to systematically study German literature and to learn German.
In the period up to 1931 there were numerous, sometimes extensive, visits to Kassel. Beckett was a welcome guest with the Sinclairs, who introduced the cultured young man to German-language literature and music. Peggy’s father was an art dealer and found in Beckett an inquisitive listener who, under the influence of the experienced Sinclair, got more and more interested in German art. Beckett was particularly fond of Dürer and his contemporaries, but also in contemporary art. Additionally, he used his stays in Germany to improve his German language skills and to deal more systematically with modern literature.
It may come as a surprise that Beckett’s all-time favorite novel (and not just in German) was Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest. Even in later years he read the novel again and again with never-ending enthusiasm and recommended it to friends and colleagues. The fact that Effi Briest was also Peggy’s favorite novel may have played a role here, although admittedly it is an excellent novel.
Of course, Beckett also read the classics Goethe and Schiller. While he was not particularly impressed by Schiller, whom he found slightly too emotional and idealistic, he valued Goethe far more – which did not prevent him from breaking off reading Goethe’s Faust at a certain point. On the other hand, he was enthusiastic about Walther von der Vogelweide and especially Hölderlin, who was much closer to him as a person than the classics.
Beckett’s love affair with Peggy ended as early as 1929, but his regular visits to Kassel lasted until 1931. In 1932 he visited Peggy, then terminally ill with tuberculosis in a sanatorium in Bad Wildungen. Peggy died there a year later, just 22 years old. Beckett processed his experiences in Kassel in his novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which was written at the time but was only published posthumously.
In addition to art and literature, philosophy also played a major role for young Beckett. For Joyce, who was working on Finnegans Wake at the time, he tracked down a volume of Fritz Mauthner’s work on the critic of language. It would be an interesting subject to examine Mauthner’s influence on Beckett’s work, which should not be underestimated. For Beckett, Schopenhauer’s pessimistic worldview became an antidote to the idealism of the German classics. In addition to Hölderlin’s Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works), Beckett also acquired the entire Schopenhauer in German and kept both editions throughout his life, reading and annotating them extensively.
Beckett was rather active as a writer in the 1930s, but much of what he wrote remained unpublished until after his death. During this time Beckett was more and more in doubt as to whether it was even possible to adequately express his thoughts in English. In addition to the influence of language-critical philosophy and a French-speaking environment, the fact that Ireland – and the English language associated with it – was traumatic for him also played a role. His recurring painful arguments with his mother, a woman who can easily be imagined in a play by Strindberg, also made it appear necessary for Beckett to radically free himself from this influence by “emigrating” into another language. The natural choice for this was French, although the exhibition makes it clear that Beckett also attempted writing in German.
In this situation critical for his development, Beckett undertook an extended trip to Germany, which he documented meticulously in diaries, the originals of which were also shown in the exhibition. From September 1936 to April 1937 he visited Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Halle, Weimar and Munich, among others.
The journals of the trip are on the one hand extremely interesting because the foreign visitor recorded and commented on the situation in Nazi Germany without illusions, but on the other hand they also provide information about the aesthetic development that Beckett went through during this time. In every city he visits he has a plan of which museums and exhibitions he wants to visit, he takes notes, finds intellectuals who quite openly flaunt their disgust for the Nazis. Occasionally, persuasion and a small bribe also helps to see works of the so-called degenerate artists, which, however, are also shown in special exhibitions by the Nazis – before these works are destroyed, sold or hidden in some storage room. Beckett knows it will be the last opportunity in a long time to see it all all over again. Here, too, it would be interesting to demonstrate in detail how Beckett was influenced in the post-WWII stage designs he had in mind for his plays by the art that he experienced during these years, especially during his visits to Germany.
A special surprise for me was the information that Beckett wrote his first play Mittelalterliches Dreieck (Medieval Triangle) in 1936 – in German! The play remained a fragment, but it becomes clear that Beckett toyed with the idea of becoming a German-writing author. He also translated his poem Cascando into German and created long lists of German words that document his seriousness with this undertaking.
Beckett, who had joined the French Resistance during the occupation of the country, soon sought contact with Germany again after the end of the war. With the publishers Peter Suhrkamp and later with his successor Siegfried Unseld he established a relationship that lasted for decades and that went well beyond the usual author-publisher business relationship. This relationship was to become of central importance for the worldwide outreach and success of his work. Beckett’s plays appeared in a trilingual edition (French / English / German), an idea that appealed tremendously to Beckett. It is also significant to note that Beckett played a major role in the German translation, which was a real co-production. Beckett was not very satisfied with Elmar Tophoven’s first attempts at translation and suggested that the young man, who was just in Paris, visit him and work on the translation together. The manuscripts in the exhibition show how painstaking Beckett’s work with the translator couple Elmar and Erika Tophoven was.
A nice character trait of Beckett was his personal loyalty and integrity. He made for example sure that “his” translators should translate everything from him and he also campaigned for this at Suhrkamp, his publishing house. Although Beckett was an extremely meticulous worker to whom every detail was important, the correspondence, especially between Beckett and Unseld, is warm and friendly, even amicable. Although both men were known to be averse to sentimentality, Unseld, who immediately recorded important writers’ meetings afterwards, was visibly touched when the seriously ill Beckett kissed him on both cheeks when they last met. (I imagine Unseld had to see Thomas Bernhard after that, and anyone familiar with the Unseld-Bernhard correspondence knows that Bernhard was infinitely more difficult to deal with).
The last two chapters of the catalog deal with Beckett’s work as a theater director of seven(!) of his own plays with the Schillertheater Berlin and his collaboration with the Süddeutscher Rundfunk on various television productions. Here, too, Beckett shows himself to be a hard worker, who always goes to great lenghts to prepare himself precisely, who learns his plays by heart in German and also uses German to a large extent at work. For each of his productions, he wrote a separate director’s book beforehand with detailed comments on the planned production. Occasionally he also changes little things in the text, still tweaking every little formulation. And again remarkable: his friendly treatment of a well-coordinated team that he trusts, above all his favorite actors Horst Bollmann and Stefan Wigger. His openness to the new medium of television and the possibilities it offers – and the freedom that Süddeutscher Rundfunk gives him for it – is all very well documented in this beautiful catalog book.
German fever opens up an unfamiliar view of an author you think you know. A book that I can recommend to anyone who is even a little interested in Samuel Beckett and his work. Kudos to the people in Marbach and elsewhere who make such meaningful exhibitions and publications possible.
Mark Nixon/Dirk Van Hulle: German fever. Beckett in Deutschland, Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, Marbach am Neckar 2017, Marbacher Magazin 158/159
When I have some free time, I love to browse blog posts of my fellow book bloggers. It is always interesting to see what the colleagues and friends are doing, which books I missed but should read soon, what they think about books I reviewed recently – and sometimes what they are thinking about other book-related topics.
As I have said several times before, I am much more aware now of the fact that translations matter and are extremely important. Even when you can speak and read five or six languages it will still widen your horizon beyond imagination when you have access to translated books. The availability and also the quality of translations are therefore two of the most important defining elements of an existing book market.
In an older blog post which I have just recently discovered, one of my favorite blogger colleagues, Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, was writing about an interesting book by David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? – Translation and the Meaning of Everything. Among other authors Bellos has translated the Albanian author Ismail Kadare into English – from the French, not the Albanian language. This is called “indirect translation”, contrary to the direct translation from the source to the target language. Depending on the question if the translator translates into his or her native language, or from his native language into the target language, direct translations are differentiated into so-called “L1” or “L2” translations. Many experts view L2 translations with scepticism or reject them completely, while some consider indirect translations as acceptable when there are no translators available for this particular combination of languages.
I think what counts at the end of the day is the quality of the translation, no matter if it is L1, L2, or indirect. Of course, chances that the translation is excellent are much higher with direct translations. When writers are sometimes using a language that is not their native one, why shouldn’t some translators be able to do the same? (Since Nabokov grew up bilingual, I wouldn’t include him in this list of writers, but there are plenty of them and not the worst) –
An indirect translation might be a kind of second-best solution in cases when there are really no translators available for this particular combination. For Kadare it shouldn’t be a problem to be translated directly into English, since there is not one, but plenty of literary translators for that combination.
But Kadare is a special case: he revised and rewrote all his books that were originally published in the time of communism in Albania when he prepared them for publication in France. That means that a translation of the same book from French to English contains a sometimes very different text than when you would make a direct translation from the Albanian version. And for the novels originally published before 1990 Kadare considers the French and not the Albanian version as the “real”, uncensored text. The revised editions of the pre-1990 novels of Kadare in Albanian language were published after the French versions, if I am not mistaken. For the past-1990 novels, the situation is different: as far as I see they are translated directly from Albanian to English because there is no need for a text revision.
There are also other authors we know mainly from indirect translations. The works of Israel Bashevis Singer are usually translated from English – there are even a lot of people that think Singer was an English-language author. Especially in the case of the translations of Singer to German that is a real pity: Yiddish is so close to German, so why not translate the books directly? (The result would be a very different text, much more close to the original, as I can say from practical experience when I made a sample translation of one of his stories once from the original text to German, comparing the result with the “official” translation from English)
Why do publishers choose to publish indirect translations instead of direct ones? One reason may indeed be a shortage of available translators for the respective combination – although this case may be much rarer as some publishers make us believe. But the problem exists: when I investigated for the possibilities to translate a book from Indonesian to Bulgarian, I realized that there is only one person who can do the job – now imagine if he would be not available for some reason: the only option remaining would be to work with an indirect translation. Otherwise the book would be never available for the potential readers whose native language is Bulgarian and who don’t read in other languages. Although an indirect translation might not be perfect, in the best case it could be a reasonable approximation of the original text. And that would be still far superior then the virtual non-existence of a book in that particular language.
Another reason for indirect translations may be that in some cases publishers can save money – it is cheaper to translate from languages where you can find plenty of competing translators than from languages where there are only a very few translators, or where possibly the translation rights might be cheaper to acquire (depending on the contractual relationships between the involved publishers, the author and the literary agency).
Also literary agents can play a role in this process. Agents try to increase the income of their clients (and by that their own income), so they try to redistribute money from other stages of the book value chain – mainly the publishing houses, but obviously to a growing extent also from translators – into the pockets of their writing clientele, by auctioning off book and translation rights, increasing the royalties for the author, etc., and by that forcing everybody else in the book value chain to decrease their income. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, as long as professional and ethical standards are respected, which is not always the case.
A particular vicious example is a recent case in which Egyptian bestselling author Alaa al Aswany and his agent Andrew Wiley (together with Knopf Doubleday publishers) are involved and that was made public by the Threepercent website of the University of Rochester.
A completely unacceptable treatment of a literary translator – and hard to believe but obviously true: a world famous author, the Godfather of all literary agents and a renowned publishing house use their combined power and leverage to cheat on a hard working professional, for reasons that are as it seems of exclusively pecuniary nature.
By the way, I find it very interesting to see the approach of different writers to the question of translations of their works. While some authors take a great interest and discuss details of the translations with their translators, or even organize like Günter Grass (on their own costs) workshops for their translators to ensure a high quality of the translations, others like Thomas Bernhard show the extreme opposite approach. From an interview with Werner Wögerbauer, conducted 1986 in Vienna:
“W.: Does the fate of your books interest you?
B.: No, not really.
W.: What about translations for example?
B.: I’m hardly interested in my own fate, and certainly not in that of my books. Translations? What do you mean?
W.: What happens to your books in other countries.
B.: Doesn’t interest me at all, because a translation is a different book. It has nothing to do with the original at all. It’s a book by the person who translated it. I write in the German language. You get sent a copy of these books and either you like them or you don’t. If they have awful covers then they’re just annoying. And you flip through and that’s it. It has nothing in common with your own work, apart from the weirdly different title. Right? Because translation is impossible. A piece of music is played the same the world over, using the written notes, but a book would always have to be played in German, in my case. With my orchestra!”
And for those of you who are familiar with Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s books with the untranslatable titles Quand Freud voit la mer and Quand Freud attend le verbe, it may be not surprising that I am very sympathetic to Bernhard’s opinion. A translation is indeed always a different book, and sometimes – as is the case with the terms created by Freud in the framework of psychoanalysis, the meaning and specific connotation of central words and expressions are so inseparably linked to the particular language in which they were created (in the case of psychoanalysis: German) that each translation is already an interpretation, over-simplification, reduction of ambiguity, and even falsification of the original text. – But I guess I am digressing a bit. The highly interesting books by Goldschmidt would deserve a more detailed review as is possible here.
Translations are a wide field – I have the feeling that I will return to the issue again sooner or later.
David Bellos: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? – Translation and the Meaning of Everything, Particular Books, 2012
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt: Quand Freud attend le verbe, Buchet Chastel, 2006
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt: Quand Freud voit la mer, Buchet Castel, 2006
Is it fiction? Is it documentary literature? It’s a little bit of both and the impression of something hybrid is even strengthened by the many black-and-white photos that are inserted into the text without explanation or description. W.G. Sebald’s book “The Emigrants” (“Die Ausgewanderten”) is maybe the masterpiece of this author who came to England in 1966 and who spent the rest of his life as a lecturer and professor teaching at universities in England. His career as a prose writer (in his native German language) started when he was already in his mid-forties.
“The Emigrants” is a collection of four long stories. Dr. Henry Selwyn, born as Hersch Seweryn in a shtetl near Grodno in Lithuania has come to England as a child and has against all odds made a career as a surgeon. The narrator, whose living conditions, opinions and favorite books coincide with W.G. Sebald’s gets to know Dr. Selwyn as a retired doctor leading a secluded life mainly in his garden when he is renting a flat in Dr. Selwyn’s house. A distanced friendship between the author and Dr. S. is developing and finally the doctor is telling the author the story of his life. The marriage of S. with a girl from Switzerland where he studied is not happy, maybe because S. kept his Jewish origin too long hidden from her, maybe because they just lost the love that was between them in the beginning. The happiest period of his life was according to S. his study times in Switzerland, when he used to go hiking with an old Swiss alpinist (who disappeared in the mountains one day). S. seems to be strangely detached from life, melancholic and living for his memories.
After a return from a visit in France, the narrator receives the message of the suicide of S. Years later, during a sojourn in Switzerland, a local newspaper reports that the body of an alpinist was found that was missing since more than 70 years. It turns out to be the missing hiking partner of Dr. S.
“And so they are ever returning to us, the dead. At times they come back from the ice more than seven decades later and are found at the edge of the moraine, a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots.”
The story “Unexpected Reunion” (Unverhofftes Wiedersehen) by Johann Peter Hebel comes to mind, an author with whom Sebald was familiar since early childhood because his maternal grandfather introduced him to this Alemannic writer.
Hebel plays also a role in the second story that was inspired by one of Sebald’s school teachers. In the story his name is Paul Bereyter, a “born” teacher who was able to turn every school lesson into something interesting and who was known for his unconventional but very inspiring way to teach. The narrator mentions for example that he introduced Hebel’s “Calendar Stories” to the pupils instead of the textbook lessons that he seemed not to consider as worthwhile for the children.
Bereyter knew already in his youth that he wanted to become a teacher and nothing else and he succeeded to achieve his aim in the 1930s. But as a “quarter-Jew” (one grandfather was Jewish) he lost his position during the Nazi era. After the war (which he survived as a soldier) he was re–installed as a schoolteacher, but something had changed within Paul, as everyone called him.
“The seasons and the years came and went…and always…one was, as the crow flies, about 2,000 km away – but from where? – and day by day, hour by hour, with every beat of the pulse, one lost more and more of one’s qualities, became less comprehensible to oneself, increasingly abstract.”
In his later years, Paul is haunted by memories. After his early retirement he is spending more and more time in France (where he lived for a few years as private teacher in the 1930s). There he makes friends with a Mme Landau who shares his interest in literature (Paul is approaching her after he sees her reading a Nabokov biography). From Mme Landau the narrator receives more information about the later years of Paul – also he was an emigrant, haunted by the ghosts of his past and by the fact that nobody in his small home town pretended that something had happened to the “disappeared” Jews even decades after the war was over.
Also the last two stories seem to be based on the lives of real persons. One is the story of a granduncle of Sebald who emigrated to America and who became a butler in a rich Jewish family. With the son of the family he traveled around the world shortly before WWI and they have obviously had a homosexual relationship. After the outbreak of a mental illness and the early death of his friend, the author’s granduncle devotes his life to the family of his friend until in his last years he is retiring to a mental hospital (without actually being ill in the classical sense – Robert Walser comes to mind), even wishing to be completely annihilated by an extreme form of electroshock therapy that was en vogue in the 1950s.
The last story, about the German-British painter Max Ferber (inspired by Frank Auerbach, whom Sebald met when he was a young student in Manchester – in the first German edition the name of the character was Max Aurach), doesn’t end with the death of the protagonist but since Ferber who came to England without his parents (who were killed in the Concentration Camps in the east) gives the narrator a diary of Ferber’s mother which she kept until her marriage, the narrator decides to undertake a study tour to Bad Kissingen, the home town of Ferber’s mother, which is not really a homecoming but a very disturbing experience.
In the meantime, Max Ferber has made a name of himself in the art world, but he almost never leaves his studio in a dilapidated area of Manchester. Only once he goes on a visit to Colmar to see the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. The work of this strange man proves to be the intuition of the extreme power of pain in Ferber’s oeuvre.
Beside the already mentioned literary influences, the reader has also to think of Thomas Bernhard (especially when Sebald is describing his visit in Bad Kissingen in the last story), but also of Georges Perec and of Vladimir Nabokov.
The passionate butterfly collector Nabokov is making an appearance in all four stories (in the last one even twice), and here Sebald is in my opinion doing a little bit too much. This “running gag” is not necessary for the dramaturgy of the stories and a bit of a cheap effect. But this is a minor flaw in this extraordinary collection of stories that has great qualities. Sebald is an excellent prose writer that is clearly inspired by Stifter or Gottfried Keller. The hybrid mixture of documentation, diary, photo novel and story seems to be the appropriate form to speak about the fate of these “emigrants” (Goethe’s “Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten” echoes also in the title of the book). And indirectly the book is also a book about the friendship of Sebald with his maternal grandfather because in all four stories a friendship between a young and a much older man plays an important role (Sebald’s relation to his father seems to have been strained in the contrary).
The book received very high praise by literary critics and was also a big success on the German and international (especially English-speaking) bookmarket. Susan Sontag, Antonia Byatt, Michael Ondaatje or Salman Rushdie considered Sebald as one of the most important authors of our times.
Very few critics, like the German novelist Georg Klein have voiced their reservations about Sebald’s books. Klein was speaking about Sebald’s “sweet melancholic masochism towards the past”, which claims a “false intimacy with the dead”. Sebald also seems not to have noticed the changes in Germany following 1968 (he visited the country very rarely after 1966) which made some of his statements regarding his home country a bit out of time and place and for my taste sometimes a bit too self-righteous.
But be this as it may, Sebald was a very important and excellent writer and “The Emigrants” is definitely one of the great books about the historical and personal disasters of the 20th century and therefore I recommend it very strongly.
W.G. Sebald: The Emigrants, Harvill 1996 (transl. by Michael Hulse); Die Ausgewanderten, Eichborn 1993
A very interesting essay about Sebald’s biographical sources of his work by the American germanist Mark M. Anderson sheds additional light on “The Emigrants” and other works of Sebald: http://www.wgsebald.de/vaeter.html