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Austerlitz
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on 4 June 2017
Sebald is Sebald, you can not compare his writings to something else, you just have to read it, it is strangely profound and draws you in the book. Surely recommended.
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on 17 August 2014
A meaningful, brtilliant book that defies description. It draws you in to his world and keeps you there. An unusual book for Sebald but one to keep for ever.
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on 20 September 2017
A brilliant book that arrived in good order & on time.
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on 4 September 2017
A fascinating story which has an intense meaning for me searching for my own identity and inheritance. I agree with several others that if you want a clear narrative with paragraphs and chapters and captions for pictures and translations of foreign languages, it's not for you. Austerlitz's search is broken by excursions and distractions into all manner of topics, just as it was for me, when the potential discovery was too scary to reveal. The story is nevertheless there and it ends as mysteriously as it begins. Along the way Sebald refers to many many aspects of European culture and history. His description of how Hitler excited the people should be a wake up call to our own times, in which demagogues are gaining power by telling lies.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 November 2001
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. The photos are incredibly melancholic, presenting an impression of extreme lonliness and human isolation. The book itself is beautifully presented, printed on rich paper with an elegant typescript and a high quality binding. I suspect it will be a collectors item in years to come.
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on 22 February 2013
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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on 24 September 2017
An astonishing book, that breaks all the rules, and left me actually weeping when I finsihed and closed itk. I'm so grateful that my friend Ian insisted that I read it, and I've quickly gone on to read everything else that Sebald wrote. Ive been busily buying copies for my family and friends since then, and have been rereading too. I can't praise this book and this writer enough
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on 4 September 2017
Hard to get into and somewhat strange
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on 16 June 2013
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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on 24 August 2009
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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