Two things happened during the early 1980s that seem to have helped Sebald find his way into the unique literary form that would define him as a writer. During a visit to his parents in Sonthofen, he came across a photo album his father had prepared as a Christmas gift for his mother in 1939 while he was a soldier in the Polish campaign. Neatly pasted and captioned, the photographs showed various scenes of war, including entire villages razed, the chimneys still smoking, as well as a smiling gypsy mother holding her child behind barbed wire. The album proved disquieting not only because it confronted Sebald with his father’s military history and the unanswered questions about his actual wartime activities (“I still don’t know exactly what he did or did not do”) but also because it brought out the “dizzying” disjunction between his own family’s private memories and the external history of German destruction.
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