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Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
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Austerlitz (2001)

by W. G. Sebald

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,502562,452 (4.21)136
  1. 00
    Heshel's Kingdom by Dan Jacobson (perodicticus)
    perodicticus: Sebald mentions Jacobson's book in the final pages of Austerlitz, and it's well worth a read.
  2. 00
    Götz and Meyer by David Albahari (DieFledermaus)
  3. 00
    Garden, Ashes by Danilo Kiš (DieFledermaus)
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» See also 136 mentions

English (49)  Dutch (3)  German (2)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Really just 2½ stars for me.

I rounded up because Sebald gave me plenty to think about. However, I found the style of very long sentences and paragraphs that went on for 5 or 10 pages tiring. I also missed the use of quotation marks to distinguish what was narrative being told by Austerlitz to the unnamed narrator & what was being told to Austerlitz & what was the unnamed narrator's thoughts.

Surprisingly, the change in voice in the middle of sentences worked well, once I got used to it. For example (my underlining):

"In the first few weeks after his return from Bohemia, Austerlitz continued his tale as we walked on, he had learnt by heart the names and dates of birth and death of those buried here, he had taken home pebbles and ivy leaves and on one occasion a stone rose, and the stone hand broken off one of the angels, but however much my walks in Tower Hamlets might soothe me during the day, said Austerlitz, at night I was plagued by the most frightful anxiety attacks which sometimes lasted for hours on end."

The sentence starts out from the unnamed narrator's perspective and switches midstream to Austerlitz's perspective, yet it is perfectly clear. ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Jan 30, 2015 |
http://msarki.tumblr.com/post/72908914865/austerlitz-by-w-g-sebald

I love the way Max Sebald writes. His language is rich and warm, quite sophisticated, but still accessible. I religiously claim W.G. Sebald as the master of all dream-state authorship. I have never read anyone so gifted at lulling one to sleep and slowly, unhurriedly, in some leisurely way, unsuspectingly knocking our heads off at the very same time. My problem with Austerlitz is that it just never happened for me. And this is the first time Sebald ever failed to excite me. I could never get engaged with this seemingly-astounding production, and this saddens me, really to no end. I am quite disappointed. In fact I have even gone so far as to blame myself for feeling this way. The character of Austerlitz left me feeling nothing for him. I owned no stake in his memorable misfortunes. Of course I felt bad for his slowly-recovering memories over what made victims of so many in Europe during that awful period of our world's history. But the character Austerlitz never evolved for me. I hate to admit it but I just didn't care about him, even though I knew all the awful things that happened all around him. His story left me feeling cold.

In the book-blurb hype one critic said that the book "takes its time lifting off the ground", and I find that is true for almost any Sebald entry into literature. It is something I like very much about the Sebald oeuvre. But I kept bracing for liftoff and it just never occurred. I actually got a bit stressed and tense being so eager for it all to surely, eventually, occur. Perhaps at some later date I might reacquaint myself with the book and see if I might still fly. But in the meantime I suppose I will forgive him for letting me down as he has so often thrilled me to no end. This ends my study of Max Sebald. I thought I was saving his very best work (and last) for the end. My mistake, and not my first one, either.

( )
  MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
http://msarki.tumblr.com/post/72908914865/austerlitz-by-w-g-sebald

I love the way Max Sebald writes. His language is rich and warm, quite sophisticated, but still accessible. I religiously claim W.G. Sebald as the master of all dream-state authorship. I have never read anyone so gifted at lulling one to sleep and slowly, unhurriedly, in some leisurely way, unsuspectingly knocking our heads off at the very same time. My problem with Austerlitz is that it just never happened for me. And this is the first time Sebald ever failed to excite me. I could never get engaged with this seemingly-astounding production, and this saddens me, really to no end. I am quite disappointed. In fact I have even gone so far as to blame myself for feeling this way. The character of Austerlitz left me feeling nothing for him. I owned no stake in his memorable misfortunes. Of course I felt bad for his slowly-recovering memories over what made victims of so many in Europe during that awful period of our world's history. But the character Austerlitz never evolved for me. I hate to admit it but I just didn't care about him, even though I knew all the awful things that happened all around him. His story left me feeling cold.

In the book-blurb hype one critic said that the book "takes its time lifting off the ground", and I find that is true for almost any Sebald entry into literature. It is something I like very much about the Sebald oeuvre. But I kept bracing for liftoff and it just never occurred. I actually got a bit stressed and tense being so eager for it all to surely, eventually, occur. Perhaps at some later date I might reacquaint myself with the book and see if I might still fly. But in the meantime I suppose I will forgive him for letting me down as he has so often thrilled me to no end. This ends my study of Max Sebald. I thought I was saving his very best work (and last) for the end. My mistake, and not my first one, either.

( )
  MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
Penso che di Sebald converrebbe avere l'opera omnia.

In questo scritto ci si perde, si naufraga in un mare di narrazioni di vita passata, di una vita 'normale' che potremmo avere avuto anche noi, ma che S. innalza - o amplia - ad un livello differente. La tragedia di Austerlitz non è naturalmente paragonabile a quella nostra - anche se ognuno ha in sè la propria storia personale, fatta di punte e di abissi e non è necessario andare alla Seconda Guerra per trovare materiale narrativo degno di ritrovare vita in un racconto cosi' denso e soffice nel quale riposare. Un racconto che mi ricorda la mappa di Borges, grande come il territorio che rappresenta. Un libro che costruisce, con le descrizioni ininterrotte e sempre - in modo stupefacente - leggibili di S., un mondo e una ricerca che vale la pena raccontare. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Jacques Austerlitz is trying to regain his past in order to find out who he really is. As one of the countless innocent victims of the atrocities associated with World War II, the five-year old Austerlitz was separated from his Czech-born Jewish parents, who put him on a kindertransport to Great Britain in order to save his life. Raised by Welsh foster parents, he lives a fairly ordinary early existence with no apparent memories of (or interest in) his heritage. Only after a mid-life nervous breakdown does Austerlitz seek to recover as much information about his parents and their divergent fates as possible. However, given that this quest begins decades after those fates were sealed, Austerlitz is left to piece together what information he can through visits to research archives, historical sites, and conversations with elderly survivors who were first-hand observers of the horrific events surrounding the Holocaust.

Ultimately, Austerlitz is a book that explores how we remember the people, places, and things that give us our identities but are gradually receding into the past. The protagonist’s journey serves as a perfect metaphor for how, as time passes and eye witnesses to any particular occurrence pass on, those memories must be reconstructed from the libraries, museums, and written and media records where they reside. However, how accurate and complete are those “gatekeepers” of our shared histories ever able to be? That question becomes particularly poignant with regard to what occurred in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s since, more than 70 years later, so few people who lived those experiences are still around today to bear witness directly.

As compelling as I found the theme of Austerlitz to be, I actually had a somewhat conflicted reaction to the novel itself. I admire the author’s sense of invention in how the tale is told; Sebald uses an almost stream-of-consciousness style that effectively combines the fictional and historical elements of the story. Further, some of the prose is absolutely stunning in its beauty. In contrast, though, there were some elements of the book’s structure that struck me as awkward: the use of the unnamed narrator created an unnecessary distraction in how many of the sentences had to be phrased, the paucity of paragraphs made it difficult to maintain focus, and the use of so many photographs became a bit of an indulgence as considerable effort was sometimes given to describing a picture that was otherwise irrelevant to the story. So, on balance, while I can certainly recommend this book for the important ideas it develops, that is an endorsement that must unfortunately come with some reservations. ( )
3 vote browner56 | Apr 17, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
He is one of the most gripping writers imaginable. It's not the story so much that takes hold of the reader: it's the descriptions and the meditations, which can be hallucinatory in their effect. This is true of all his books, but in Austerlitz the proportion of rumination and evocation to narrative is larger than ever.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Gabriele Annan (pay site) (Nov 1, 2001)
 

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. G. Sebaldprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charvát, RadovanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hengel, Ria vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vigliani, AdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the second half of the 1960s I traveled repeatedly from England to Belgium, partly for study purposes, partly for other reasons which were never entirely clear to me, staying sometimes for just one or two days, sometimes for several weeks.
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"In 2005, as part of the celebrations of its 70th anniversary, Penguin (which owns Sebald’s British imprint Hamish Hamilton) issued excerpts from 70 titles spanning its publishing history. Austerlitz was chosen to represent the year 2001 and so a 58-page excerpt from Austerlitz was published in a slim paperback under the title Young Austerlitz. The excerpt covers pages 44 to 96 in the American edition, in which Austerlitz describes part of his childhood in Wales." -Vertigo
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375756566, Paperback)

If the mark of a great novel is that it creates its own world, drawing in the reader with its distinctive rhythms and reverberations, then W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz may be the first great novel of the new century. An unnamed narrator, resting in a waiting room of the Antwerp rail station in the late 1960s, strikes up a conversation with a student of architecture named Austerlitz, about whom he knows almost nothing. Over the next several years, the narrator often runs into his odd, engaging acquaintance by chance on his travels, until finally, after a gap of two decades, Austerlitz decides to tell the narrator the story of his life and of his search for his origins in wartime Europe. Slow and meditative, relying on the cumulative effect of its sedate, musical prose and its dark subject matter (illuminated here and there with hope), Sebald's novel doesn't overturn the conventions of fiction, but transcends them. It is a love story to history and vanished beauty. Don't let the slow beginning turn you away. Austerlitz takes its time getting off the ground, but is well worth seeing in flight. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:41 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Over thirty years, in the course of conversations that take place across Europe, a man named Jacques Austerlitz tells a nameless companion of his ongoing struggle with the riddle of his identity. A small child when he immigrates alone to England in the summer of 1939, Austerlitz is told nothing of his real family by the Welsh couple who raise him, and he strains to orient himself in a world whose natural reference points have been obliterated. When he is a much older man, fleeting childhood memories return to him, and he obeys an instinct he only dimly understands and follows their trail back to the vanished world he left behind a half century before, the void at the heart of twentieth-century Europe.--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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