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Austerlitz [Paperback]

W. G. Sebald , Anthea Bell
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 July 2002
In the summer of 1939, five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz is sent to England on one of the Kindertransports and placed with foster parents in Wales. For reasons of their own, the childless Calvinist couple erase from the boy all knowledge of his identity. Throughout his life Austerlitz is haunted by feelings of otherness, but it is not until retirement that he embarks on a journey to make sense of his curious early memories and explores what happened to him half a century ago.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140297995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140297997
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 299,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

W. G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, in the Bavarian Alps, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland and Manchester. In 1966 he took up a position as an assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester, settling permanently in England in 1970. He was professor of Modern German Literature at the University of East Anglia, and is the author of The Emigrants which won the Berlin Literature Prize, the Literatur Nord Prize and the Johannes Bobrowski Medal, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. W. G. Sebald died in 2001.

Product Description

Amazon Review

WG Sebald's Austerlitz has something of the fractured narrative and wanderlust of his novels The Emigrants and The Rings of Saturn, and continues to develop their obsession with history, loss and memory--or more precisely in this case, forgetting. In the decade since the original German publication of Vertigo, Sebald has established himself as indisputably one of Europe's most interesting and lauded writers.

In 1967, the narrator bumps into a man in the salle de pas perdus of Antwerp's Central Station. Thus begins a long if intermittent acquaintance, during which he learns the life story of this stranger, retired architectural historian Jacques Austerlitz. Raised as Dafydd Elias by a strict Welsh Calvinist ministry family, it is only at school that Austerlitz learns his true name--and only years later, by a series of chance encounters, that he allows himself to discover the truth of his origins, as a Czech child spirited away from his mother and out of Nazi territory on the Kindertransport. He returns to confront the childhood traumas that have made him feel that "I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life."

In this writer's hands, Austerlitz's tale of personal emotional repression becomes a metaphor for Europe's smothered past. Sebald wittily explores the tricks of time and space, unearthing Europe as an unconscious palimpsest. Delighting in lists and unfeasibly lengthy descriptions, Sebald can turn anything to poetry--even the alleged health benefits of Marienbad's Auschowitz springs become "a positive verbal coloratura of medical and diagnostic terms" (luckily, all his characters seem to be able to hold forth this way). Indeed, Sebald writes with such preternatural lucidity that even a harrowing account of writer's block ironically becomes a celebration of his own quite clearly unblockable virtuosity.

At heart, though, Austerlitz is a serious indictment of modern Europe's "avoidance system", its repeated patterns of personal and institutional forgetting that, even within Austerlitz's own lifetime, have contrived to obscure, ignore and render irretrievable his past and the source of his pain. And yet, despite the bleakness of that picture, the book ends with its hero--and its readers--committed to trying, at least, to remember. --Alan Stewart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Critics fall over themselves to heap praise upon this brilliant and original writer... there can be no finer introduction." -- Waterstone's Books Quaterly

"It is fiction with the highest ambitions that does not fail to move and satisfy." -- The Observer

"Sebald’s is a troubled voice to which anyone with a serious interest in fiction should pay attention." -- Daily Telegraph Summer Reading

"This dense, dark, prize-winning novel makes rewarding reading." -- Daily Mail

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new genre 16 Mar 2006
Format:Paperback
I came across Sebald's books by chance via The Rings of Saturn. At first I had no idea what I was reading. To me it seemed a new genre, not just a novel. Austerlitz follows a smiliar pattern. Sebald seems to combine travelogue, dream, history, reminiscence, psychology and even illustrates his pages with long -lost photographs. It is like stumbling into a drawer and finding the faded, collected remnants of someone's consciousness. The non-stop non-paragraphed writing resembles a kind of manic dream state. I hope this doesn't sound off-putting and perhaps you have to read it to understand. Underlying his writing is a luminous humanity. We follow Austerlitz as he grapples with his anxiety and distress, his "sense of rejection and annihilation" which links his story to the wider currents of Europe's history of denial and admission. I don't recommend Sebald: he deserves, or rather requires, to be read. Words like dreamlike and haunting don't do this justice. He truly pushes writing into a new, enigmatic territory.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense, meaningful, possibly significant 11 Nov 2001
By A Common Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Sebald tells a fictional story of the adult Austerlitz's search for his past, from his birth in Prague, through his early childhood, leading to his passage to Britain just before WW2 on one of the last trains sending young children to safety.
Sebald adopts a deliberately meandering style, the narrative interspersed with thoughts about science, architecture, 20th century history. The book is introspective and dense, drawing the reader into a melancholic frame of mind, around thoughts of holocaust, persecution and brutality.
Among his many descriptions of European architecture he writes about the Palace of Justice in Brussels, ". . . a kind of wonder, which is in itself a dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins"...
In reading a book like this, it is necessary to ask the question what is it about? In my view, Sebald seeks to show his readers that the consciousness of the awful horrors of the last century, effectively put a stop to any lightness or levity in the present. Our bleakest expectations of human behaviour colour our experience today so that all is shot through with memories of the dreadful things that happened a mere 60 years ago (and continue to recur to this day).
Not a happy read, but probably an "important" book and having read Austerlitz a week or so ago I find my thoughts returning to it, and wanting to revisit it.
Incidentally, the book is beautifully produced, being illustrated with a collection of black and white photographs, some of which I assume Sebald shot himself, and others which I imagine are "found" objects from his collection.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The unbearable lightness of memory 20 Dec 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I was half way through this wonderful book when I read of Sebald's death in a road accident last weekend. Fortunately for us, it stands as a brilliant culmination of his four 'novels', but also shows us what we have lost.

Austerlitz has been driven to the brink of mental illness by the suppression of early childhood memories and the refusal to hear of anything that has occurred in Europe since the nineteenth century. Following his upbringing in North Wales, his life in London and his travels in Prague we see reality creeping in. Austerlitz slowly discovers himself and in doing so discovers the twentieth century for us.

Part of the pleasure of reading Sebald is the prose - measured, precise and beautifully translated - and the inclusion of photographs that contribute as much to the atmosphere as the text. There is also much of Thomas Bernhard here - the lack of paragraph breaks, the long sentences, the story told by a first person relating a long conversation with a second or third, a main character who has spent his life researching some obscure topic but will never manage to put pen to paper (Bernhard's Concrete and The Lime Works), and a preoccupation with compromised morals. There is perhaps even a nod to Bernhard with the description of the Nazi rally in Vienna's Heldenplatz - the subject of a play by Bernhard.

I was entranced by The Rings Of Saturn but Austerlitz is even better - easily the best book I read this year. That we will not have any more books like this I find unbearable at the moment.

If Austerlitz appeals to you, then do try Bernhard too - The Loser or Cutting Timber would be a good place to start.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable and unique 25 April 2004
Format:Paperback
This book is a great joy. It is highly unusual in that it is composed inone long paragraph. Yet somehow the intricacies of the story unfolds andpasses through many facets and episodes. It is like nothing else that Ihave read but it held my attention all the way through. A new way oflooking at old themes of war, loss, memory and friendship. It is not alight read but it is far from being hard work having an elegance in styleand compassion for the characters that ensures you care about what you arereading. Definitely a five star read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
For me one of the most extraordinary and moving books I have ever read. Austerlitz is a brilliant engagement with the ramifications of historical trauma (in this instance, the Holocaust) and the way that it impacts on identity. This is a rich and multi-layered narrative that has as one of its themes the very process of making sense of horror through narration. Sebald has written a deeply humane and ethical rendition of the intimate reverberations of grief within the individual psyche, yet the structure of his book suggests that others are always crucial in coming to terms with the self and its struggles. The central character, Austerlitz, pieces together his lost history only with the aid of the unnamed narrator and the stories of others whose lives have been dislocated by fascist brutality. While the struggles of the self, Sebald suggests, are enacted hidden from the view of others, our stories are always bound up with other narratives, and that attending to these different tales may aid our quest for an authentic mode of being.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Beautiful.
Published 1 month ago by V. Homem
5.0 out of 5 stars Austerlitz
An amazing book, beautifully written. The author's use of language is amazing, and his descriptive pieces paint vivid word pictures. Read more
Published 4 months ago by MRS, J.L.D.HUCK
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy, but so enriching
Austerlitz is so profound and weighted, that I could write pages on everything that grabbed me, moved me, pushed me or inspired me. Read more
Published 4 months ago by CMSN
1.0 out of 5 stars Shaggy dog story
A confused rambling series of descriptive passages that fail to tell any story. You will never get back the time you wasted on this book.
Published 4 months ago by Anitacska
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking study of lost identity and how the absence of a...
A thought provoking study of lost identity and how the absence of a past can have a profound effect on an individual. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Pam Carroll
5.0 out of 5 stars Austerlitz
This is my favourite book - I have read it three times and it is now on my kindle as well so that I can easily find favourite places. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Ros Morley
5.0 out of 5 stars A Seminal Work.
This is an amazing book but you have to persevere beyond the initial chapters. Beautiful, haunting, writing. A Masterpiece and I feel one of my all time favourites.
Published 11 months ago by Celia Freije
1.0 out of 5 stars Overly layered
Did I miss something? This book has had terrific reviews but I found the actual story - the origins of Austerlitz - obscured by layers and layers of unnecessary details. Read more
Published 12 months ago by RubyLola
5.0 out of 5 stars Time To Think Again
Finnegans Wake was a kick up the literary backside for me as I struggled at first to find new ways to make sense out of apparent nonsense. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mike Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars No story, but a rivetting read,
WG Sebald, Austerlitz

WG Sebald's obsessively detailed autobiographical novel is no easy read. But like its forerunner The Rings of Saturn the toil yields rewards. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. D. James
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