Customer Reviews for

Austerlitz

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    To make you see

    Occasionally there appears a writer who makes us see the world in a new way. Sebald is such a writer. He notices and concentrates upon details and aspects of reality which otherwise ordinarily go unobserved. So this book is filled with descriptions of things, of places, of sights, scenes, objects which we in the course of ordinary lives go by barely noticing. Sebald observes with precision and obsession, and is a thorough and systematic recorder of these thinglike aspects of the universe most of us ordinarily ignore. He is a philosophical writer but not in a formal way, but rather through the presentation of experience in a reflective and meditative way. The story of Jacques Austerlitz which is at the heart of this work is not told in a conventional way. It is told to the narrator of the work who himself has no name no apparent identity no history in a series of meetings. In these meetings the voice of Austerlitz takes over and the telling tone becomes indistinguishable from that of the narrator. This does not seem to make any difference, in much the same way as the absence of a certain kind of ordinary expression of close feeling seems to make no difference. For the tale is told as travelogue as essay in memory in a kind of detached manner, a manner which reflects the relation to life of Austerlitz himself and Sebald also. Sebald is a German writer born in 1944 who first saw his father at the age of three, when the father returned from being a war prisoner. The father had served in the Wehrmacht and would remain estranged from Sebald. Sebald's grandfather was the male figure in his life. When in his teens Sebald was shown in school a film of the concentration camp Belsen and this totally shocked him, and estranged him from the ordinary German life he saw around him. He would later make his adopted country England his home, though he makes clear that even in East Anglia where he taught German Literature for many years he was never at home. The shock of the past and the reality of the past, and the past never being past are all central in Sebald's work . Thus the hero of this work Jacques Austerlitz a child sent at the age of four from the family home in Prague on the Kindertransport to England is adopted by a Welsh childless couple and raised in a remote world where he too never feels at home. The story of his life in Wales and then at school are prelude to his tracing of his family , and his meeting again with his Czech nursemaid, the woman who closely remembers his parents. Austerlitz tells the tale of tracing the life of his actress mother who eventually was interned at Theirenstadt, and his socialist- activist father who disappeared after the Nazi roundups of Jews in France. But in this work the story is only one element in the whole literary construction, a construction whose atmosphere and feeling, and again way of seeing things are so unique and singular. Here is a small taste of the prose which will give some feeling of the work, though certainly not encompass wholly its descriptive and reflective richness. Austerlitz speaks of losing his power to write. 'But now I found writing such hard going that it often took me a whole day to compose a single sentence, and no sooner had I thought such a sentence out, with the greatest effort and written it down , then I saw the awkward falsity of my constructions and the inadequacy of all the words I had employed.' 'If language may be regarded as an old city full of streets and squares nooks and crannies , ith some quarters dating far back in times while others have been torn down, clearned up and rebuilt, and with suburbs reaching futher and further into the surrounding country, then I was like a man who has been abroad a long time and cannot find his way through the urban sprawl any more, no longer knows what a bus stop is for , or what a back yard is, or a street junction, or an avenue , or a bridge.' This is writing in which enormous knowledge from many are

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2004

    To the Ruins and Back

    I had a difficult time getting past the first 30-40 pages, because of the content, and how it didn't seem to relate to anything insightful. I wasn't even certain if the narrator was an actual person, or another persona of the main character, Austerlitz, perhabs he had been writing in a diary, or talking to himself. His addiction to drawing architectural sites and writing notes about the architecture, is the foundation or building block of his character, his life, unbeknownst to him. Austerlitz, not coincidentally was the name of a railway station, and a historical civilization, gone to ruins. Well, much in this book has gone to ruins, the lives lost during the Holocaust, the cities , architecture and cemeteries, the life forces of Austerlitz and the narrator, all seeming to take a turn for the worst, amidst depressive states of Being. But, within the novel, there are analogies, comparisons, subtle, but there, if we look for them...moths, butterflies, their life and death patterns analyzed and compared to human lives. The novel finally made more sense after the first 100+ pages, and things came together a bit more, as far as Austerlitz's ancestry, and more interest develops within his character. He seems to come to terms with his foster parents, his kindertransport to Wales, his identity (not known until he was told by a teacher, just before exams), and his Jewishness. The book ends on both a positive and sad note, and finally we understand what is behind the words and drawings.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2003

    Slow terror of jewish child sent to safety...

    This novel was reccommended by a friend. As I read I thought this is easy reading, not the hammer blows of the holocaust. The hero's stay in Scotland with all those strange words like Llanwddyn, Vyrnwy. It reminded me of Tolkein. I thought I noticed some errors, like when Austerlitz says that his Calvinist foster father preached about purgatory, I thought that only Roman Catholics believed in that. I enjoyed the sytle of writing and I liked the plot and how it unfolded.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2002

    Finally, A Book That Was Meant To Be Read

    Tthe narrator's tale of his odd friend, Austerlitz, is poetic and brilliant. Who doesn't identify with Austerliz and his struggle to piece together his rapidly disappearing past as he ages? Ultimately we are all reduced to this. Sebald's early death in December 2001 gives the book a special gravity. A quote from early in the book, '...the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children's playhouse in the garden - are those [buildings] that offer us at least a semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he liked a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice on the Old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder which in itself is a form of 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.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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