cover image Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald

Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald

Carole Angier. Bloomsbury, $32 (656p) ISBN 978-1-5266-3479-5

Angier (The Double Bond: The Life of Primo Levi) pieces together the first biography of elusive writer W.G. Sebald (1944–2001) in this well-researched account. The Sebald that Angier conjures is a trickster, singular in his compulsion to invent and play with fact and fiction. Anchored by the accounts of people who knew Sebald, Angier narrates his upbringing in post-WWII Germany with a Nazi father, his emigration to England to teach at the University of Manchester, the publication of The Emigrants in 1992, “the most important event of his writing life,” and his tragic death in a car crash at the age of 57. Angier places great emphasis on the silences that shaped his life: the “silent catastrophes” of WWII, the loss of the “good silence of his childhood,” as well as the sources who didn’t agree to speak to Angier, including his wife. Angier devotes a handful of chapters to analyzing Sebald’s work, especially its relationship to his own life, and although these chapters tend to interrupt the flow of the larger narrative, they do add complexity to the portrait of Sebald as a writer who “lied” about his life for the sake of his literature. Sebald fans will find much to consider in this detailed tome. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (Oct.)