A meditation on memory and loss. Sebald re-creates the lives of four exiles--five if you include his oblique self-portrait--through their own accounts, others´ recollections, and pictures and found objects. But he brings these men before our eyes only to make them fade away, ´´longing for extinction.´´ Two were eventual suicides, another died in an asylum, the fourth still lived under a ´´poisonous canopy´´ more than 40 years after his parents´ death in Nazi Germany.
Sebald´s own longing is for communion. En route to Ithaca (the real upstate New York location but also the symbolic one), he comes to feel ´´like a travelling companion of my neighbor in the next lane.´´ After the car speeds away--´´the children pulling clownish faces out of the rear window--I felt deserted and desolate for a time.´´ Sebald´s narrative is purposely moth-holed (butterfly-ridden, actually--there´s a recurring Nabokov-with-a-net type), an escape from the prison-house of realism. According to the author, his Uncle Ambros´s increasingly improbable tales were the result of ´´an illness which causes lost memories to be replaced by fantastic inventions.´´ Luckily for us, Sebald seems to have inherited the same syndrome.