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Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

Austerlitz (2001)

by W. G. Sebald

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,109742,716 (4.17)178
  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 178 mentions

English (63)  Dutch (5)  German (2)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (74)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Narrative style didn't work for me

I read this because it is considered one of the 20th century's great novels, but the narrative style did not work for me. I did not enjoy this extended conversation between two people which takes place over many years. I prefer some action and/or lyrical prose...À_ ( )
  KellyFordon | Mar 6, 2019 |
This is the second time I’ve read this novel; the first time was soon after its publication in rh U.S. The book haunted me for reasons I couldn’t articulate. So, I thought it would be a good choice for my book club under the theme of “Memory." It proved to be the most controversial book in my three years of moderating this group.

The unnamed narrator is a man without a country, wandering through Europe studying architecture. In a railway station, he makes an acquaintance with a man who introduces himself as Austerlitz.

Sebald does away with plot, characterization, dialogue, and events leading to other events. What we get is the unmediated expression of a pure and seemingly disembodied voice.
Austerlitz is on a quest to find out who he is. What he recounts to the narrator is a reconstructive odyssey in search of himself. The two men encounter each other, seemingly by coincidence, again and again in their respective travels, always discussing architecture and history, but sharing nothing of their personal lives until 1996 when their conversation finally turns to Austerlitz’s life history.

The incredible power of this book is how Sebald tells the story and layers the subtext to a point that it requires re-reading with intense attention to every detail. Sebald combats the erasure of history on the collective level as well as the individual. What the Nazis take from Austerlitz is not his life or property but his essential personhood. The traumatic effects of separation are not felt by Austerlitz until the distractions of study and career are cleared away, exposing the emptiness of his disconnected, dislocated existence.

The photographs, unannotated throughout, are part of what makes this novel so powerful and haunting, perhaps because photographs are so evocative and unaffected by the passage of time—except for the fading. The photos give us the impression of a memoir, but some of them have no connection to the prose, yet we, as the reader, are always looking for the pattern. The Nocturama and its accompanying photos of the monkey, the owl, Wittgenstein, and another man set the tone for the conceit of fake realities, which include the false reality of Austerlitz’s own childhood, the horrific distortion of reality by the Nazis, and the false universe of the Holocaust. Sebald says, “This recourse to peripherality (the photographs) arises partly as a narrative strategy to cope with the inherent unrepresentability of that which occurred in the Nazi concentration camps.”

Central to understanding this novel is the reader's understanding that Sebald is German but not Jewish. He is the narrator; he is not Austerlitz. He writes as he does to cope with the “conspiracy of silence” that surrounded him growing up in Germany. His father worked in the Nazi machine. Sebald’s conviction: “This is not so much a way of understanding the Holocaust, so much as it is a way of making us think about how we can’t understand the Holocaust.” This book is a combination of memoir, fiction, travelogue, history, and biography. ( )
  ucla70 | Jan 30, 2019 |
Synopsis: Austerlitz is sitting a school exam when his teacher informs him of his formal identity which must be used for exam purposes. It is then he learns that he was transported as a child in order to evade the war.

As an adult, Austerlitz became fixated with architecture and the narrator (who remains unnamed throughout) decides to retrace his past.

My Opinion: The first 100 pages are a little bit confusing, but once you learn who is who and what is happening, the story becomes easier to read. I was about ready to give up on this book as I couldn't get into it despite its positive reviews online. The unraveling of the past doesn't really begin until about 200 pages in; the first 200 pages are focused on Austerlitz in the present day and his interest in architecture.

There is a lot of symbolism throughout with the architecture and animals, however I found myself skim reading a significant portion of the book. Additionally, there are no chapters which makes the passing of time slightly confusing and disjointed as a reader.

A very eery read. From reading other reviews I can infer that other people took more out of this than what I did. I think had the discovering-of-the-past unfolded earlier on, the descriptive language would have intrigued me slightly more than it did. ( )
  Moniica | Jan 2, 2019 |
A man finds that he is the child of Holocaust victims instead of a Welsh family, and searches for his true identity.
  JRCornell | Dec 8, 2018 |
I simply no longer have patience to stay with any book once it becomes clear that it will not grab nor sustain my attention. Too many good prospects on the TBR. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Nov 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (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 (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sebald, W. G.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charvát, RadovanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hengel, Ria vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krüger, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vigliani, AdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, JamesIntroductionsecondary 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Don't combine this title with Young Austerlitz which is merely an extract of the complete work.
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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 5 descriptions

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