Its original German title is Luftkrieg und Literatur , which means "Air war and literature". It consists of essays about literature and writers, through which Sebald discusses the German processing of World War II. The book was published in Munich in through Carl Hanser Verlag. The German edition features the long titular essay and the one on Andersch. John Banville reviewed the book for The Guardian : " On the Natural History of Destruction is a quietly spoken but fierce protest at the mendacity and moral evasiveness of our time.
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As we find out every year in our shadow panel for the International Foreign Fiction Prize , even today, seventy years after the end of the conflict, World War Two continues to fascinate writers all over Europe, and beyond. Sebald claims — in the country which stood at the heart of these terrible events, he believes the war is something which has been more glossed over than taken to heart…. As Sebald rightly points out, the German air attacks on British cities such as the London Blitz and the partial destruction of my hometown, Coventry, in November are well known and have been meticulously covered by many writers, yet the Allied attacks on German cities towards the end of the war, and their devastating consequences, have been relegated to the realm of memory.
Sebald, who from a young age was fascinated by the ruins he saw around him, blames this collective amnesia on the writers who refused to, or were unable to, address the problem in their work. One reason for this, naturally, was that having started this game of aerial destruction, the Germans were in no position to complain about the unfairness of the attacks:. While this was untenable at the time, Sebald himself examines the problem, questioning the morality, and the effectiveness in bringing the war towards a conclusion, of the carpet bombing of German cities many of which were dubious targets.
One conclusion he reaches is that the steady bombing of civilian areas was actually the result of an unstoppable move towards the idea on the part of the British military forces; having built up the bombs and the capability to deploy them, it was almost easier to use the technology than to leave it idle. The ethical question interests Sebald less, however, than the terrible effects of the raids. As he goes deeper into the subject, he presents the reader with a sobering picture of the reality of the destruction unleashed upon cities like Hamburg and Dresden.
He describes exactly what happened during the raids, focusing on the effects of the incendiary bombs, thousands of smaller fires joining to form a hellish conflagration which incinerated people where they stood, sucking the oxygen from the air and lighting the city up to such an extent that it could be seen from tens of miles away.
Then we are shown the aftermath, with refugees fleeing across the country, mentally and physically scarred by the experience, traumatised women carrying the charred, mummified remains of a child in their suitcases…. And yet, Sebald claims, despite this widespread trauma and shared experience of the destruction, very little of this is depicted in the literature which appeared in the years immediately after. The third part of the book contains his reflections after receiving feedback on the lectures from those who disagreed with his views, with the writer still convinced of his point:.
At the time, it was considered to be too depressing and dangerous for a recovering population to be exposed to.
Whether you can completely trust his evaluation of post-war German literature is something people more qualified to discuss the subject than I am can decide amongst themselves. However, even for a layman in the area, Luftkrieg und Literatur is a fascinating read.
Excellent review, as ever, Tony. But his conclusion, that this led to a post-war amnesia, is fatally flawed due to his.
The air war over Germany was, James says, covered extensively In the more low-brow reading material consumed by most Germans, e. Like Like. Excellent review, Tony.
I can only repeat what the previous poster said: my least favourite Sebald book but still worth reading it. Roth, Kluge and many others. And what Sebald wrote about Andersch is indeed brutal, self-righteous and partly also factually wrong.
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‘Luftkrieg und Literatur’ (‘On the Natural History of Destruction’) by W.G. Sebald (Review)