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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 27 September 2008
An innovative, fantastic exploration of memory, experience, and how the horrors of the holocaust can ruin the life of people who weren't even directly touched by it. The mixture of autobiography and fiction, as well as the copious use of photographs to enhance the narrative, make for a very real and vivid story. More than this, the book is littered with the deepest, most interesting of insights and observations. However, there were a few flaws: all the voices (even Vera's) sounded the same to me; the Jewish angle just didn't ring true, and I think this was a marginal hole in Sebald's research; and while the relationship with and symbolism of buildings was done brilliantly, I rarely felt that these characters were brought alive through their relationships with each other, as they only ever seemed to connect via a series of distant acquaintances. Perhaps this was the point, since Austerlitz is made cold and detached because of what has been stolen from him by the Nazis, but all the other characters seemed infected by the same problem too.
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This tackles the same kind of subject matter as Boy With the Striped Pyjamas but in a much more academic way. It is a strange book. The first 50 pages are so are rather like wading through porridge. When you eventually get to the narrative part you begin to have high hopes, that are then shot down with a disappointing middle and end section.

The book is written in just one massive paragraph - which in itself isn't a great problem, but at times you feel that Sebald is trying to be just too clever and erudite for the good of the story which is essentially about the leading character's journey to find his past - again rooted in Eastern Europe.

Sadly he finds the answers all too easily which means the book becomes more a social comment than a good mystery story. The prose is interspersed with strange black and white maps and photographs that seem to add little to it and at the end it all just peters out with a new character being introduced in the last three pages which just leaves you asking the question why?

Much of the book is rambling in nature which is sad because it does have quality and is well written but the subject matter ends up in disappointment.
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on 18 September 2002
This book was not of the type I usually buy, but I'm very glad that I did.
It took me a while to get into this book. It centres around a mysterious first person, who has repeated chance encounters with an aquaintance, Austerlitz. During these meetings, Austerlitz recounts his life story. I won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say this book is haunting, beautifully written, and deeply thought provoking.
The book takes the reader on a wonderful tour of many subjects, from architecture, through battle tactics, to the study of moths, all the while developing the wonderful story.
Read this book; give it a chance (don't give up during the first 100-or so pages), and enjoy the wondeful journey on which it will take you.
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on 4 September 2013
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.
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on 24 December 2009
This is a very rich and haunting novel exploring one man's search for his identity. The book deals with the effects of the kinder transport during the Second World War, through the personal journey of one young child, whose intense feelings of loss and isolation are echoed throughout the novel. It is not an easy novel, as it requires the reader to confront the horrors of the Jewish diaspora via different zones of place and time, sometimes stopping along the way to question the very nature of our existence, but it is one which is utimately enlightening.
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on 29 August 2013
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. This severely reduced my empathy for the character. I ploughed on with it only because it was chosen by my book club.
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on 28 March 2006
I started reading this book because one of my favourite authors praised it highly in one of the book's reviews, saying it had plenty of moving things. While I can see why she liked it, I couldn't disagree more with this opinion: in fact, this entire book never moved me at all, or else, I failed to be moved by it. This is supposed to be a novel, not a digression on architecture or the life of moths (which it truly was until at least the middle). As a novel, it is supposed to strike a chord in the reader, either like or dislike, but it shouldn't leave the reader quite indifferent - which is exactly what happened to me. I'm currently reading Shalimar the Clown by Rushdie, and a single paragraph on the Holocaust has moved me much more than ever the whole of Austerlitz could.
To start with, I found it highly improbable that anyone would meet a perfect stranger a number of times and listen to him all the time, without ever contributing to the conversation, without even knowing the other person's name for several years. Then, although the synopsis claims that Austerlitz's amnesia about his past is a metaphor for the collective forgetfulness of past events that should be unforgettable, namely the Holocaust, I think this is pushing the metaphor too far. How could anyone feel such instinctive need not to know anything of German origin if they didn't know something about it in the first place - even if they didn't want to remember, which is quite a different thing? That would be denying or erasing an unpalatable past, but it felt like he didn't have any past to start with.
Finally, I found the periods too long and the lack of paragraphs or page breaks quite tiring. I should have known better than to pick something which is described as joycean, as I never liked the Modernists in the first place.
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on 18 July 2014
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on 2 May 2016
I am writing this review while I struggle to get to the end of the one long paragraph of tedious fiction/non-fiction this book really is. It's going straight to the charity shop afterwards. Boring.
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on 13 September 2007
It is unjust that some of the back-cover blurbs speak so highly of this pseudo-literature. I almost gave up after 50 pages or so; losing patience with the lack of paragraph or chapter breaks, the determined lack of plot and characterisation, and the relentlessly pedantic and impassive tone. There is a hint of purpose after about 200 pages, as the author creeps predictable towards the Holocaust, but any hope of dramatic denouement is snuffed out by a disappointing detour into another barely significant scene. The whole book is a series of hollow digressions, each with an unwarranted attention to the details of objects and artefacts. It hints at feeling but never stirs the imagination. Although his prose style is light and elegant, this is the literary equivalent of finding an old photo album in a stranger's attic: quaint, curious but distant and unmoving.
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