- 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: 179 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Austerlitz (Modern Library Paperbacks) Paperback – September 3, 2002
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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.
Top customer reviews
I can't remember reading another book in which the accretion of imagery is as careful and powerful as it is here. The images are all vivid and beautifully drawn, but also metaphorically significant as Austerlitz's story unfolds--evacuated from Prague at age 4-1/2 to save him the Nazis, raised in Wales with no recollection of his earlier life, and finding himself as an adult trying to reclaim that forgotten past. There is the story, for instance, of the homing pigeon that for three days walked home after its wing was broken. Sebald didn't write Austerlitz with the usual white space that one expects in novels (at paragraph breaks and dialogue, for instance)--but he relieves what would otherwise be a stark presentation by including a sequence of photographs. This approach, too, seems integral to the novel and not merely stylistic--for Austerlitz, the character, there are no true blank spaces.
This does not feel like a Holocaust novel--and even with foreknowledge, the fact that it is can take a reader by surprise in the much the same way that it surprises Sebald's characters. This is a beautiful, haunting novel, and I cannot remember reading anything else that feels like it. Not a straightforward read, but richly rewarding.
Until he was nearly 15 years old, Jacques Austerlitz thought that his name was Dafydd Elias. He knew almost nothing of his origins, other than that he was the ward of a Calvinist preacher in Wales. But, slowly, he begins to look back. The story develops in a series of conversations between Austerlitz and the unnamed narrator, whom he meets by chance in a railway station. Eventually his search for himself leads to Prague, which he left as a very small child in one of the last trains of refugee children before the war began.
The book can be read as a meditation on memory, and on the Holocaust. It can also be read as a description of living in two worlds, the orderly and sedate life of contemporary western Europe and the murderous convulsion of the early 1940s, the evidence of which surrounds Europeans everywhere. (Sebald, a German who spent most of his career teaching in England, knew a lot about living in two worlds.) The translation, by the way, is extremely skillful. With his long sentences and long paragraphs, Sebald forces the reader to go slowly, paying a lot of attention to details, as his narrator does. "Austerlitz" stands among the monumental achievements of recent European literature.