Book - 2001
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Random House, Inc.
1. In what ways can Sebald’s work be said to create a new genre? Do we know whether to take Austerlitz as fact or fiction? 2. Why do you suppose Sebald incorporates photographs into his work? To what effect? 3. Where does the name Jacques Austerlitz come from? Why do you think Sebald chose it? 4. What is the relationship between past and present throughout the book? What tricks does Sebald play with the passage of time? What does Austerlitz have to say on his experience of time? 5. What sort of mood does Sebald’s use of language create throughout the novel? How does Sebald’s language function in the same way that character and plot do in a more traditional novel? 6. Some critics have called attention to Sebald’s wan sense of humor–a “low-key gallows humor.” What examples of this humor can you find in the book? 7. What type of architecture most appeals to Austerlitz? What do you make of this fascination? 8. Various animals appear throughout the novel. What does the novel make of the relationships between humans and other creatures, and between all animals–humans included–and their environment? How do animals in the novel orient themselves, and what does it mean, throughout, to become literally dis-oriented? 9. What does the novel have to say about the mind’s defenses against great trauma? 10. At the novel’s end, Austerlitz tells the narrator of a Jewish cemetery located just behind his house in London, behind a wall, whose existence he’d only discovered during his last days in the city. How does the discovery of the cemetery replicate Austerlitz’s discovery of his heritage, and what does this link suggest about the connection between physical artifacts and the workings of memory? In what way could it be said that this cemetery’s presence in the novel honors the durability of the world of European Jewry that Nazi Germany attempted to expunge?
Over the course of a thirty-year conversation unfolding in train stations and travelers’ stops across England and Europe, W.G. Sebald’s unnamed narrator and Jacques Austerlitz discuss Austerlitz’s 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 mind’s defenses against trauma. Along the way, this novel of many riches dwells magically on a variety of subjects–railway 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 Prague–in the service of its astounding vision.

Baker & Taylor
Jacques Austerlitz, an orphan refugee child who arrived in London in 1939 and was raised by a Methodist minister, struggles to understand who he is as he moves through his life. 35,000 first printing.

Blackwell North Amer
Over thirty years, in the course of conversations that take place across Europe, a man named Jacques Austerlitz tells a nameless companion of his ongoing struggle with the riddle of his identity. A small child when he immigrates alone to England in the summer of 1939, Austerlitz is told nothing of his real family by the Welsh couple who raise him, and he strains to orient himself in a world whose natural reference points have been obliterated. When he is a much older man, fleeting childhood memories return to him, and he obeys an instinct he only dimly understands and follows their trail back to the vanished world he left behind a half century before, the void at the heart of twentieth-century Europe.

& Taylor

Shares the struggle of Jacques Austerlitz to uncover his identity as he follows the memory of his childhood back to the heart of war-torn Europe, to the place from which he emigrated as a young orphan in 1939.

Publisher: New York : Random House, c2001
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780375504839
Characteristics: 298 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


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Feb 01, 2018

fter Rings of Saturn, I immediately got a hold of another book by Sebald. This had that same quality of moving through a realistic world, but somehow making it feel like a dream, and exploring memory. I have not read a comparison, but I think he treats memory as Proust does. This book is different in that that focus is a friend, who at times narrates. Takes Sebald's unique writing to another new place.

Apr 16, 2016

Sebald's novels are beyond comparison. Superb.

multcolib_central Jul 19, 2014

It's been so long that I road this intriguing novel that I'll probably check it out if you don't.
This a good introduction to a novelist's work that was cat shout, tragically.

May 30, 2013

As one of the defining events of the 20th century, the Holocaust has reverberated and echoed in peculiar ways all throughout the world.

It's no exaggeration to say that Austerlitz captures this truth more perfectly than any other 'holocaust novel,' by presenting itself as a rambling jazz novel, filled with long sections of stream-of-consciousness digressions and diversions related by a man constantly collecting his thoughts and explaining himself to another.

Jacques Austerlitz has lived unaware of history, but in the trundling wheel of his thoughts - reflections on architecture, art, travel, memories, dreams, relationships and experiences - there are shadows and spectres lurking in the corners. Austerlitz determines to find out these ghosts, if only to give name to a feeling looming over him his whole life.

(The only time I stopped reading was when I was within view of the end, and not wanting it to end, knowing the only end could be unsatisfactory anyway, I hid the book from myself.)

Devin_Library Aug 06, 2009

A diaphanous book of memory, containing the whole weight of 20th century Europe. It's amazing how Sebald does this stuff -- there are glimpses of horror seething under the surface, but the narrative itself is as calm as a pond on a windless day. His books are a kind of talking cure for unspeakable terror. Makes you think humanity might have a chance after all.


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