Over the course of a thirty-year conversation unfolding in train stations and travelers stops across England and Europe, W.G. Sebalds unnamed narrator and Jacques Austerlitz discuss Austerlitzs ongoing efforts to understand who he is. An orphan who came to England alone in the summer of 1939 and was raised by a Welsh Methodist minister and his wife as their own, Austerlitz grew up with no conscious memory of where he came from.
W.G. Sebald embodies in Austerlitz the universal human search for identity, the struggle to impose coherence on memory, a struggle complicated by the minds defenses against trauma. Along the way, this novel of many riches dwells magically on a variety of subjectsrailway architecture, military fortifications; insets, plants, and animals; the constellations; works of art; the strange contents of the museum of a veterinary school; a small circus; and the three capital cities that loom over the book, London, Paris, and Praguein the service of its astounding vision.
Book Magazine - Tom LeClair
Perhaps the form and style of Austerlitz are supposed to provide an aesthetic alternative to Nazi efficiency, a text that retains qualities of personal eccentricity and dreamy memory, facets of a European culture that Nazis attempted to destroy. Maybe, but I don't believe it. Just as finally I don't believe in Austerlitz or the narrator or the photographs, just as I don't believe in what Sontag calls Sebald's nobility. Here's what I do believe: The Holocaust should not be an occasion for embroidery.
Though his latest isn't as startling and exciting as The Emigrants or The Rings of Saturn, it is a significant achievement, and Sebald should continue to attract ever more attention.
Ultimately, the narrative transcends fiction and becomes history. The overbearing details of architectural history that saturate much of the text are the only distractions. Ultimately, this is a work of rare originality.
W. G. Sebald is a monster -- a gorgeous and unwaveringly assured writer, a bold formal innovator, and a man always plunging into the core of identity, singular and national. In Austerlitz, he's created his richest and most emotionally devastating story, and this book might be his finest.
W. S. Merwin
With untraceable swiftness and assurance, W. G. Sebald's writing conjures from the details and sequences of daily life, and their circumstances and encounters, from apparent chance and its unsounded calculus, the dimension of dream and a sense of the depth of time that make his books, one by one, indispensable. He evokes at once the minutiae and the vastness of individual existence, the inconsolable sorrow of history and the scintillating beauty of the moment and its ground of memory. Each book seems to be something that surely was impossible, and each (upon every re-reading) is unique and astonishing.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Alan Bradley
Sebald's eccentric architecture lifts one outside of a time-bounded universe and reveals our lives, and history in general, as a mere series of points on the space-time grid that offer no revelations as to the mystery of life and reveal no pattern,... Read More
Death sits in her chilly apartment, where she lives alone with scythe and filing cabinets, and contemplates her experiment: What if no one ever died again? What if she, death with a small d, became human and were to fall in love?
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