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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
2,618562,287 (4.2)145
  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 145 mentions

English (49)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Some books come right to the point and you are one with the characters from the beginning. Not this one. Sebald does all he can to put obstacles between the reader and the nominal protagonist, both by style and character.

A nameless narrator stands between the reader and Jacques Austerlitz, recounting how they meet by accident and then seem to keep meeting until a sort of friendship is formed. At first, Austerlitz talks only of architecture; eventually, he reveals a story of lost identity and emotional starvation as part of the World War II Kindertransport, and how he manages through sudden memories and hints of memory to find his way to his real history.

Sebald's style is not easy. There are no chapters, and no paragraphs, and the prose, translated from the German, contains some extraordinarily lengthy sentences that stretch for pages. In addition, the convention of Austerlitz telling our narrator a story (which of course he is telling to us), and of others telling Austerlitz stories which he in turn tells the narrator, creates a feeling of mirrors within mirrors and requires close attention.

Sebald leavens this prose with many photographic images of what is mentioned in the text, all of them documentary style black-and-white. They add to the bleakness of the story.

And yet - I can't help feeling that this novel will only get richer on subsequent readings. The language is meticulous and often the descriptions are vivid, far more than the photographs. The emotions inherent in the story can be found in some of the most restrained prose. As soon as I finished it, I started it again, to see how I would react to the style once more, and I was hard pressed to put it down.

One of the members of our reading group called it a fever dream, and it has some of that dreamlike quality, disjunct and often involving memories, dreams, and the stories of others, someof whom are long gone. It's not for everyone, surely. I would not call it 'entertaining' - but striking, and significant.

Note also that Sebald is a German of the generation after the war, and that he wrote this in German, speaking to his fellows at least, using an oblique angle to illuminate the damage caused by a now-familiar horror. ( )
  ffortsa | Nov 8, 2015 |
Haunting. Especially the qualities of everyday life covering deep hurts and desires. ( )
  ted_newell | Jun 20, 2015 |
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 |
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:27 -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 4 descriptions

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