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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new genre
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...
Published on 16 Mar 2006 by Mr. David Cheshire

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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Esoteric, atmospheric, irritating but ultimately haunting.....
In 1939 a five year old is sent from Prague to Wales to escape the imminent disaster. He soon forgets all of his previous life and grows up knowing nothing of his past. However in adulthood he comes he is haunted by his unknown identity and by his absence of memories. The loveless Welsh household and the harsh private school are superbly described.

The book is...
Published on 23 Oct 2007 by Wynne Kelly


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Austerlitz, 24 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
Yes, Sebald's other major works are all beautifully written, profound, and insightful. but they lack narrative force, or propulsion (and in this way are reminiscent of the similarly negligent Perec or Calvino). They essentially consist of a series of vaguely themed anecdotes and musings, and often remind me of a grim existentialist version of the TV programme QI. This is not to say that i don't value them, but i do regard them as difficult books to read, cover to cover, as novels. They are, perhaps, best enjoyed as books to dip in and out of, and are closer to something like Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet or Burton's wonderful treatise The Anatomy of Melancholy. Good, then, but not quite the supreme masterpieces some would claim. Austerlitz, however, is a masterpiece, in that it contains the same beautiful descriptions and philosophical weight that elevates Sebald's writing beyond most other authors, but marries these gifts to a story worth reading, in-itself, as a story. Lovers of modernist fiction would tell you that plot is unimportant. Ignore them. The true greats are able to tell a great story AND move emotions AND massage the intellect. With this novel Sebald confirmed himself as one of the true greats.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars prose poem, 14 Oct 2009
This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
The unreality of the action of Austerlitz - several meetings between two men, giving rise to unexplained trust, which prompts a series of increasingly revealing monologues by one of them, Jacques Austerlitz - is a device which presents its real and entirely convincing substance to great effect. The book is an intuitive and imaginative and image-rich exploration of the relation between past and present. It does not, however, supply, or even seek, unarguable answers to the questions that result.

Jacques Austerlitz discovers the reasons for his distant and fragile nature in his early childhood in continental Europe, during the first years of the Nazi holocaust. His search is unresolved, however, so that his adult personality remains distant and lonely and always searching. The narrative simply fades at the end. Ideas about loss and suffering and separation and trauma are put forward and explored in a poetic way. The calm, uninvolved tone of the book, and the really beautiful manner in which the narration goes forward, by use of lively images both literary and literal (photographs interspersed in the text), make it rather easy to read, even though there is little direct human interaction, virtually no conversation, and an almost dreamlike quality to the entire work.

This is a brilliant book but maybe not of universal appeal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive translation of memorable and insightful river of prose, 11 Mar 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
I would not have thought of reading a book with no paragraphs and few full stops if I had not been intrigued to understand what made "Austerlitz" so talked about when it was first published.

From the outset, I was carried along by the hypnotic power of the great wave of prose which describes the anonymous narrator's occasional, usually chance visits in railway stations or cafes with the eccentric loner, Jacques Austerlitz. I was also very taken with the strange, dark little photographs embedded into the text to illustrate certain points - these are meant to be part of Austerlitz's collection, but must have been acquired somehow from many sources by the author and the story adjusted to include them.

A lecturer in art history, Austerlitz launches into lengthy monologues without any sense that he might be boring his audience to death, which means that you need to have an interest in architecture to get through the opening pages. Realising that the narrator is the best listener he will ever find, Austerlitz proceeds to recount his odd, and rather sad childhood in Wales, as what turns out to be the fostered son of a fanatical clergyman and his wan wife. In the very striking descriptions of the Welsh countryside -like a Turner landscape in words, I began to see the author's power.

It is gradually revealed that Austerlitz was brought to Britain on the "Kindertransport" to escape the Nazis. After years of repressing his early memories, he realises that he has also avoided close emotional relationships with anyone, and feels a compelling need to trace his family, find out what befell his parents and see the places where he lived before his life was ripped apart by the Nazis. Some of the most moving passages cover his "detective work", meeting with his former "nanny" and recognition of places he must have seen before.

This novel is certainly original. It cannot be judged by normal standards in that plot is of no interest to Sebald. Although the stream of consciousness always makes perfect sense, passing impressions - such as the resemblance to strange landscapes of the shadows on a wall - are deliberately given more weight than significant events. Significant friendships are only implied in Austerlitz's emotionally stunted, autistic world - yet he can unburden himself to a near-stranger. The author is keen to convey his theory that time is not linear in our minds - in some atmospheric places - say, an old courtyard - one may experience now the time of a past age, and so on.

At times, I felt overwhelmed by the self-indulgent excess of some of the author's "verbal digressions". I found that I could only cope with a few pages at a time. There being no chapters to provide natural breaks, it was frustrating to have to put the book down mid-sentence because one could not bear to plough on to the next full stop, several pages further on.

I also wondered if the device of the narrator was necessary or even desirable, leading as it often did to the clunky "and so, as X told him, Austerlitz said....".

The sudden and arbitrary ending - making the point that the rambling account could have gone on for ever, also left me feeling flat and a little disappointed.

Overall, this is probably a flawed masterpiece. I did not need it to inform me of the horror of the Holocaust, but it makes an effective contribution to the body of work which reminds people of what no one should ever forget.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time To Think Again, 16 Jun 2013
This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
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. In the end I settled on reading it out loud, which gave me plenty of space on buses and trains as I chuntered my way through what soon revealed itself to be an insightful and hilarious discourse on being human and, more particularly, being Irish. Austerlitz delivered another boot to the bum because it doesn't look much like a novel (all those photos and illustrations), read like a novel (soliloquies delivered to an unidentified narrator sporadically encountered through the text), or conclude like a novel (the "ending" is time going on, as it always does while we're still alive). It also contains one of the profoundest meditations on time I've ever read, inspired by a visit to Greenwich, as is a similar disquisition in Ali Smith's There But For The. But Austerlitz's preoccupation with time is central to his quest to find out what happened to his parents as the Nazis carted them off to the camps and he was hastily sent from Prague on Kinderstransport to a strictly religious household in Wales. One criticism of Sebald is the lack of humour in his work but the stunning writing more than makes up for this deficiency and perhaps laughs are inappropriate in what is essentially a lament for the tragic and different country - literally - that is Austerlitz's past.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gently atmospheric, moving and thought-provoking, 17 Sep 2009
This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
The reviews of this book appear to be quite polarised and it seems that it will appeal to a more thoughtful and meditative reader rather than one looking for a very dramatic or fast-paced storyline.

The points of reference are quite eclectic and maybe slightly demanding with various inserted discourses on a wide range of subjects. The way these are included appears to sit very comfortably within the flow of the narrative and generally help to create a mysterious and other-worldly atmosphere where the mundane takes on an unexpected significance. Despite this, the storyline of an individual's life and self-discovery is well paced and reveals itself clearly as the book progresses.

I fail to understand how anyone could not be moved by some of the scenes that are described. The fractured recollections of a person contemplating a journey into the unknown, sent away from their parents as a four year old child whilst Europe descended into war is beautifully handled.

The style of the book may have been disturbing if the author had used traditional devices such as parallel storylines or cliffhanger scenes at the end of each chapter, but it is not that kind of book. The stream of thought that underscores the unbroken narrative is typical of how people really think and the only problem is trying to stop reading. This book should probably be best read in one go. And then read again.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A LIFE THAT NEVER WAS, 30 Oct 2003
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
This novel is obviously not everyone's cup of tea, but it's mine. I was lent it without having asked for it or even heard of it, and to have a hope of enjoying it I would suggest - don't read too many reviews before you start. Favourable as well as unfavourable, they could frighten you off.
The book begins with a digression, but there's no way of knowing that if one is starting from cold. It could be a travelogue, showing the fascination with detail and the reflective, analytical and detached cast of mind that pervades it right to the end. The main narrative eases itself in shortly after without any change of pace, style or tone, and the calm passionless idiom never varies up to the last page. Jacques Austerlitz was a refugee from the nazis, but too young to have clear recollections of the time. He was brought up by a childless and cheerless Welsh couple, given a new name and told nothing about his origins. These come to light, as they can in novels, when as a talented and above-average pupil he turns out a model of an essay on the subject of - the battle of Austerlitz, wouldn't you believe. He reminds me of nothing so much as the 'faint phantom' who visits Penelope in the Odyssey. Everything he says is reported by the 'shell' narrator, and his own narrations in their turn contain the reported utterances of others. A brief allusion is made to his slight resemblance to Wittgenstein, and it's hard not to think of the philosopher repeatedly in this tale of a lonely, compulsive, brooding thinker whose emotions and whose very identity have been buried and repressed. He makes his own Odyssey to discover what he can about it, and his 3-week bout of amnesia is, for me, one of the most telling and effective touches in the book. To me this is not another piece of Holocaust-literature, but it has its own highly individual slant on the era and on the pettiness as well as the brutality that made up that deviation of the human spirit and mind.
There is a lot more to the book than the ghostly Austerlitz. He and his narrator are interested in places and things for their own sake, not just in relation to him. I share this outlook in my own way, and as it happens the story took me to some of my own favourite spots - Prague, the strangely empty and unwelcoming Mawddach estuary, the southern Rhine valley, even the old Liverpool Street railway terminus with its gloomy double pillars. It informed me on subjects I knew nothing about, e.g. moths and urban fortifications. Austerlitz even attended the same Oxford college as I did, and I wonder who the real people were (or are) whose photographs we are shown purporting to be Austerlitz as a boy and as a young rugby-player.
The book does not read in the least like a translation. It is in what I might call 'perfect English' with the intentional implication that you would know it was not an English-speaker speaking. That is all part of the effect, as is the absence of chapter-division, paragraphs and quotation-marks. If that sounds daunting in any way, let me report quite truthfully that I was well into the book before I even noticed. For me, a nigh-on-compulsive read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No story, but a rivetting read,, 23 May 2013
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
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. In both books the narrator is easily identified as the author himself, modestly disguised, but in Austerlitz he is little more than an ear. In case the reader should forget it, the speech direction `said Austerlitz' runs monotonously and irritatingly through every page. We may wonder why the narrator-listener has such heroic patience that he is prepared to listen, day in day out, year in year out, to the story of this ailing old Jew obsessed with finding out the details of his family who perished in the holocaust.

The coy but anonymous reporter (let's call him Sebald) first meets the old gentleman by chance at the Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris. But that was years ago. But coincidence allows them to meet again. So we have Austerlitz the station, Austerlitz the man and somewhere in the distance the memory of Austerlitz, the battleground of much bloodletting in the Napoleonic wars.

In Sebald, trains, distances (many map references as in The Rings) and place names are iconic, and wars are a continual background to the eccentric narrative poured into the ear of an eager listener. On occasion we are brought back to time present with reminders such as `Memories like this came back to me in the Disused Ladies Waiting Room of Liverpool Street Station, memories behind which many things much further back in the past seemed to lie.'

As ever in Sebald the past is ever-present, each memory enfolding others, back into history, his own, Europe's, the world's. So that memory - of a wonderful but ruined church in Salle, Norfolk, activates others. But these memories belong to Austerlitz and are the part of him he needs to share with the self-effacing narrator.

Oddly, every page of this narrative within narrative compels our attention, by its elegant prose as much as by the mazy path it traces through a human consciousness. Behind the search for lost people and lost memories is the German policy of extermination. The Trade Fair Palace at Holesovice where `small groups of people dragging their heavy burdens emerge from the darkness' is the vast, badly lit palace where young Vera said goodbye to the resilient Agata. True, that is Agata's story, as told by Vera and reported to Austerlitz whom she knew only when he was a child and Sebald unborn - but we know what happened to them all.

Facts about the holocaust are sprinkled into the narrative, but it's the murky background rather than the essence of the tale. There have been other wars before, other mass-exterminations that get a passing mention, but their detail is no longer even a memory. Among the old photographs reproduced (a Sebald trademark) are images of relics of the fortifications at the now deserted camp at Terezin. Here `not a single curtain moved behind their blind windows ... but what I found most uncanny of all [said Austerlitz] ... were the gates and doorways of Terezin, all of them, as I thought I sensed, obstructing access to a darkness never yet penetrated.'

This is a haunting and long-winded narrative, its pages tightly packed, with virtually no paragraphs and notorious for one sentence (out-Prousting Proust) of two and a half pages. The memories are fading, but this book is a fine memorial to the darkest period of the last century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strangely Haunting, 22 Feb 2013
This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
I found this book to be one of those which you read thinking, "Who on earth thought this would grip the reading public?", and then, after closing the last page, "I will have to go back to the beginning, because I suspect that all sorts of things will strike me with a fresh impact now that I have got to the end."

Anyone who likes a page-turning plot and sparky characters and dialogue will be disappointed. And yet, when you think about it, how many people's lives contain extraordinary co-incidences and plot twists?

The gradual unfolding of an unhappy childhood, a difficulty in relating to people, and the eventual revelation that the child was torn from his parents and sent on a Kindertransport, refelct sober and mournful realism.

The apparent coldness and remoteness of that person, caused by a childhood spent with people who did not love him, is so well-drawn. At one point, a (brief relationship) girl-friend tells him, "It does not have to be like this." She is right for a normal person, but the abnormal events in Austerlitz's life make it impossible for him to relate to people in a warm and natural way.

The dissasociation of many people from normal life and relationships, the reliance on "fake" friendships and abnormal dependence on the internet, can perhaps be traced back to the fundamental break with human relationships which was the central horror of the holocaust. How could anyone trust another human being after those events? It has been said that the world should be divided into "before and after" the holocaust.

Loneliness is a strong feature of the book. In fact, at times it is difficult to distinguish the voices of the narrator (German) and the title character, Jacques Austerlitz, as they both lead extremely solitary lives and wander about a lot looking at old buildings.

Perhaps both are part of the same person, the dislocated individual who is trying to reconcile himself to life after the disconnection between humanity and its actions referred to above.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully imaginative novel, 27 April 2012
By 
Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
I was given this book to read by a friend of mine after I told him about Martin Amis' Time's Arrow, in which we see the backwards biography of an American doctor who turned out to be an execution doctor in the Auschwitz extermination camp.

Artistically, this book is on a different plane. The book is one sustained paragraph in which a traveller meets Austerlitz at a Belgian railway station and over the course of a number of meetings in London, Paris and Antwerp we get an account of Austerlitz's life and background.

Austerlitz, it turns out, was born in Prague in 1934 to Jewish parents. He was put onto a Kindertransport and sent to Wales where he was adopted by a Calvinist minister who travelled around their home area around Bala on a pony and trap preaching hellfire and damnation at plenty of small chapels. Austerlitz is given the name Daffyd Elias and sent to boarding school where his intelligence and studiousness eventually earns him a place at Oxford. He befriends another boy and stays with him over the holidays at a resort called Barmouth. I happen to have had a number of holidays in this area myself and so for me it was fascinating and a bit heartwarming to see it described so beautifully.

When Austerlitz is 16, both of his adoptive parents, who have presumably kept him in the dark about his origins die or go insane. The school tells him his real identity but not much else.

After Oxford, Austerlitz embarks on a career as an architectural historian and the book contains plenty of diagrams and photographs of buildings that he describes. This, for me, is one of the most interesting aspects of the book because through the architectural analysis, we piece together Austerlitz's mind and thoughts.

Finally, we see Austerlitz, having suffered some kind of crisis, taking active steps to find out the fate of his birth parents. We see that his mother, who was a singer and actress, being made to go to Theresianstadt, a castle citadel turned into a concentration camp (now known as Terezin) and his father escaping to Paris where it is presumed he was taken to a concentration camp somewhere else in occupied France. The reader does not ever find out what happens to either character and the book rather fizzles out in the end. However, I still enjoyed reading it, finding it a fascinating and haunting, if rather melancholy read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Man and boy reunited, 19 Oct 2012
This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
Most of the time you can discount cover hype on books as over-excitable PR guff but when you read here about "genius", a "Joyce for the 21st century" and "literary greatness" then, take it from me, in this case it's all justified. An unidentified narrator meets Austerlitz and over the years, as they keep bumping into each other, hears of the eponymous protagonist's voyage back in time to his Czech childhood and flight from the Nazis to a loveless preacher's household in Wales. Photographs and illustrations gild what is in essence a superbly written and translated meditation on the root of identity and the way it structures our perception and our lives. Put like that it sounds arch and arty but this is the real deal, Proust for the modern age, and writing doesn't get much more mesmerically brilliant than this.
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Austerlitz
Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald (Paperback - 3 Nov 2011)
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