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W. G. Sebald (1944–2001)

Author of Austerlitz

34+ Works 14,822 Members 319 Reviews 158 Favorited

About the Author

He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland and Manchester. He has taught at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England since 1970. He became a professor of European literature in 1987. From 1989 to 1994 was the first director of the British Centre for Literary show more Translation. He was born in Wertach in Allgau, Germany in 1944. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Art by Zero

Works by W. G. Sebald

Austerlitz (2001) 4,157 copies
The Rings of Saturn (1995) 3,331 copies
The Emigrants (1992) 2,477 copies
Vertigo (1990) 1,644 copies
Campo Santo (2003) 513 copies
After Nature (1988) 482 copies
A Place in the Country (1998) 364 copies
Unrecounted (2003) 161 copies
For Years Now (2001) 61 copies
Young Austerlitz (2005) 56 copies

Associated Works

The Tanners (1985) — Introduction, some editions — 472 copies
Granta 68: Love Stories (1999) — Contributor — 151 copies
Air Raid (2008) — Afterword — 44 copies
Ralph Doughby's Esq. Brautfahrt (2006) — Contributor, some editions — 7 copies

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Our anonymous narrator transcribes the extraordinarily articulate narration of Austerlitz, a refugee adopted as a young child in Wales in the early part of WW2. Austerlitz only learns of his origins, and only vaguely, when his last parent dies. As he tells his story to our narrator, we learn of his despair and inability to be close to anyone or anything, and his search for his past. Star shaped buildings and stars themselves play a role that I didn’t quite grasp. As Austerlitz slowly pieces together his past we learn of the holocaust and the complicity of peoples across Europe in its execution.
This was related, but very distinct to the two other novels by Sebald I’ve read, Rings of Saturn and Vertigo. Both of those were essentially travelogs where you learn about the nature of memory from tales of the past rooted in the present. Austerlitz shared some elements, such as the nature of memory, but the third party narration makes it less like you are hearing Sebald in your head, with its wonderful quirkiness. It is excellent, and heartbreaking, but not quite as good as the other two.
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diveteamzissou | 100 other reviews | Apr 3, 2024 |
an sich gut, aber sehr anstrengend zu lesen aufgrund der fehlenden Kapiteleinteilung und des repetitiven Satzbaus
 
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knethake | 100 other reviews | Mar 8, 2024 |
This was a very original, unusual and captivating book and my first venture into Sebald. The narrator takes us on a walking tour around Suffolk county on the east coast of England, while giving us a history lesson in related local and foreign events and sharing with us his inner thoughts and reflections. The text is interspersed with bad grainy photos, which makes the whole experience very sureal. He finds a seamless way of bridging between his perception of the physical surroundings and his musings on historical topics, whether it’s the decline of the local seaside economy, Sir Thomas Browne’s skull, Joseph Conrad and Roger Casement, the demise of the local herring industry, or sericulture in Norwich. His diversity of topics is never muddled and Sebald finds a natural almost dreamlike way to beautifully transition from one topic to the next. It’s almost like a tour of his mind.

His central theme seems to be somewhat nostalgic and poignant, one of decay, nothing is permanent and ultimately everything dies:

“ ... nothing endures, in Thomas Browne’s view. On every new thing there lies already the shadow of annihilation. ... There is no antidote, he writes, against the opium of time ... Dunwich, with its towers and many thousand souls, has dissolved into water, sand and thin air.”

Sebald’s lyrical prose has a poetic ring to it and is some of the most enjoyable I have read in a long time.

“And yet, what would we be without memory? We would not be capable of ordering even the simplest thoughts, the most sensitive heart would lose the ability to show affection, our existence would be a mere never-ending chain of meaningless moments, and there would not be the faintest trace of a past.”

I really enjoyed this book. Despite the unusual narrative and seemingly endless range of topics, I was fully immersed and never bored. It just naturally flows. Highly recommended.

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amurray914 | 81 other reviews | Feb 27, 2024 |
It has been many years since I read Sebald and I had forgotten how melancholy his writing is. That he is talented is without question. This recounting of the (fictional) lives of four German emigrants is almost unrelentingly depressing. The four stories that Sebald constructs are, for the most part, quite believable…even to the point of making me wonder on occasion if he isn’t simply telling non-fiction stories. But each one also has a few twists that struck me as not quite believable and reiterated that this is, in fact, fiction. Each story, in its way, addresses concerns of trauma and isolation, memory and belonging. I am not quite certain what it is about Sebald’s voice (in addition to his settings) that makes the overall effect so cheerless but I find it both consistent and compelling, in its way. One point that I think is essential to make is that the translation (into British, as opposed to U.S., English) is superb. I can’t read German and so have no way to compare but I find that Michael Hulse’s rendering is really quite extraordinary.… (more)
 
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Gypsy_Boy | 46 other reviews | Feb 16, 2024 |

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Jan Peter Tripp Photographer
Andrea Köhler Afterword
Ria van Hengel Translator
Ada Vigliani Translator
Michael Hulse Translator
Anthea Bell Translator
Radovan Charvát Translator
James Wood Introduction
Michael Roloff Translator
Jos Valkengoed Translator
Jo Catling Translator
Iain Galbraith Translator

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