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Austerlitz (Modern Library Paperbacks) Paperback – September 3, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 164 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If the mark of a great novel is that it creates its own world, drawing in the reader with its distinctive rhythms and reverberations, then W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz may be the first great novel of the new century. An unnamed narrator, resting in a waiting room of the Antwerp rail station in the late 1960s, strikes up a conversation with a student of architecture named Austerlitz, about whom he knows almost nothing. Over the next several years, the narrator often runs into his odd, engaging acquaintance by chance on his travels, until finally, after a gap of two decades, Austerlitz decides to tell the narrator the story of his life and of his search for his origins in wartime Europe. Slow and meditative, relying on the cumulative effect of its sedate, musical prose and its dark subject matter (illuminated here and there with hope), Sebald's novel doesn't overturn the conventions of fiction, but transcends them. It is a love story to history and vanished beauty. Don't let the slow beginning turn you away. Austerlitz takes its time getting off the ground, but is well worth seeing in flight. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The ghost of what historian Peter Gay calls "the bourgeois experience," molded in the liberalism and neurasthenia of the 19th century and destroyed in the wars and concentration camps of the 20th century, haunts W.G. Sebald's unique novels. His latest concerns the melancholic life of Jacques Austerlitz who, justifiably, exclaims, "At some point in the past, I thought, I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life." The unnamed narrator met Austerlitz, an architectural historian, in Belgium in the '60s, then lost track of his friend in the '70s. When they accidentally run into each other in 1996, Austerlitz tells the story that occupies the rest of the book the story of Austerlitz's life. For a long time, Austerlitz did not know his real mother and father were Prague Jews his first memories were of his foster parents, a joyless Welsh couple. While exploring the Liverpool Street railroad station in London, Austerlitz experiences a flashback of himself as a four-year-old. Gradually, he tracks his history, from his birth in Prague to a cultivated couple through his flight to England, on the eve of WWII, on a train filled with refugee children. His mother, Agata, was deported first to Theresienstadt and then, presumably, to Auschwitz. His father disappeared in Paris. Austerlitz's isolation and depression deepen after learning these facts. As Sebald's readers will expect, the novel is filled with scholarly digressions, ranging from the natural history of moths to the typically overbearing architecture of the Central European spas. In this novel as in previous ones, Sebald writes as if Walter Benjamin's terrible "angel of history" were perched on his shoulder. B&w photos. (Oct.)Forecast: Gambling (safely) on Sebald's progress from cult favorite to major figure, Random House has picked up the author from former publisher New Directions and is sending him on an author tour. 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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; 1 Reprint edition (September 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375756566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375756566
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those readers fortuate enough to have read W.G. Sebald's inimitable novels "The Emigrants" and "The Rings of Saturn" this latest book by one of the most unique and important literary voices writing today will only add to the admiration building for Sebald and his hauntingly beautiful "Austerlitz." That the work was written in German and translated by the sensitive Anthea Bell somehow adds to the universal impact of Sebald's mind and peculiar technique of telling stories. There are no paragraphs, no chapters, and only an occasional inch of space to bring pause to the writing. True, the technique of placing photographs of "fictional places" encountered by the writer's characters does allow some visual pause, but those pauses are purely additive.
Sebald writes about a man (Austerlitz) who despite his lushly satisfying intellectual life of an architectural historian finds himself in search of his roots. That those roots were blurred by the atrocites of Hitler's Kindertransport program (Jewish children were sent to England by parents hoping for their safety as the wings of evil flapped menacingly in the air) only makes Austerlitz' journey to self discovery the more poignant. His revisiting the sites of his true parents in Prague and Marienbad and Terezinbad, Paris, and Belgium produce some of the most beautifully wrought elegies found in the written word. His walking among the horrors of the obsessive compulsive Hitlerian Final Solution Program is devasting in the way that only researching one's history from time-lapsed memories and visual stimuli can create.
Some readers may be put off by the intial rambling technique of getting to the journey that fills the first quarter of this book, not helped by getting adjusted to the pages-long sentences and lack of chapters or pauses.
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Format: Hardcover
The literary/intellectual world has lost one of its more scintillating stars, when W.G. Sebald, spurred by a heart attack, ran his car into an oncoming traffic and died last week. He was 57 years old. I still haven't recovered fully from the news, since this man's work has deeply influenced my thoughts and the way I read.
'Austerlitz', then, is a beautiful swansong. It is eminently more accessible than his previous books, 'The Emigrants', 'The Rings of Saturn', and 'Vertigo'. It is not to say that Austerlitz is any less ruminative than his earlier work, but there's more of a divested narrative thrust in Austerlitz, and it makes for a breezier (can any Sebald work be 'breezy'?) reading (although Sebald altogether does away with paragraphs and chapters for the most part).
The translation by Anthea Bell... I haven't made up my mind about it. Michael Hulse had translated Sebald's earlier books (published by New Directions), and although Bell's translation seems sonorous and good, some of the tough, intransigent lyricism of Hulse's translation seems to be missing here.
If you're interested in reading Sebald, definitely start with this haunting novel. Sebald does harrowing things with themes of memory and identity, never giving into portraying the horrors of history with broad, sentimental brushstrokes as many storytellers tend to do.
After 'Austerlitz', 'The Emigrants' should be a good follow up read. Then 'The Rings'... and 'Vertigo'.
There's a book of Sebald that is supposed to come out next year on Germany's participation in the WWII that was criticized by many Germans as being too... well, as being too starkly honest.
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By A Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Those of us who love Sebald's writing, love it passionately. I don't think this is an author with whom you can take a middle-of-the-road stance. Either you can't stand his books, or you adore them. I happen to adore them and feel very saddened that Austerlitz must be his last.
I think many people are put off by Sebald's long sentences, which can go on for two or three pages or more, as well as his long paragraphs that can go on for forty or fifty pages or more. If they are, they shouldn't be. Sebald wrote beautiful, crystalline prose and his books are surprisingly easy to read.
Sebald's books are not conventionally plotted, nor should they be. They are not conventional stories but meditations, revelations, evocations and elegies instead. They end up asking more questions than they answer and, in that way, they stay with you and become a part of you more than most conventionally plotted works ever do.
Austerlitz, my favorite Sebald work, is set in various train stations across Europe and chronicles a series of conversations that take place over a thirty year period. These conversations take place between the narrator of the book (who is never named) and a fellow traveler (Austerlitz) whom the narrator first encounters in the main train station in Antwerp, Belgium.
The book is slow to start, but gradually, we learn more and more about the mysterious Austerlitz. A native of Prague, Austerlitz learns from his nanny that he was sent out of that city (by train) prior to the arrival of the Nazis. Hence, train stations become very important to him for, in a sense, they symbolize his very survival.
A student of architecture, Austerlitz immediately captivates the narrator with his lectures on that subject as well as on art, time and various other subjects.
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