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Austerlitz Cover

ISBN13: 9780375756566
ISBN10: 0375756566
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. In what ways can Sebalds 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 Sebalds use of language create throughout the novel? How does Sebalds language function in the same way that character and plot do in a more traditional novel?

6. Some critics have called attention to Sebalds 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 minds defenses against great trauma?

10. At the novels end, Austerlitz tells the narrator of a Jewish cemetery located just behind his house in London, behind a wall, whose existence hed only discovered during his last days in the city. How does the discovery of the cemetery replicate Austerlitzs 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 cemeterys presence in the novel honors the durability of the world of European Jewry that Nazi Germany attempted to expunge?

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Adrien-Alice, January 18, 2010 (view all comments by Adrien-Alice)
What to say about this book? It's the only Sebald I've read, so I don't have much to compare it to. It's amazing, and only got better as its very first-person pattern got more distinct, as my brain went from present to past to future past, spiraling around the details that, if they don't quite add up to a personality, add up to a life.

One of the most persuasive evocations of what the Holocaust can mean, how it can be approached. The book is an accumulation of fact and artifacts, not plot or even really events, and eventually as a reader you come to realize that the distance between the objects the narrator has accumulatedand the meaning they had for the people who used to own them is the exact distance of understanding the holocaust, the impossible thing I feel like this book manages to hint at how to do.

It's the kind of book that splits me--do I suspend myself in the beauty of its attempts at the inexpressible or do I hurtle myself towards trying to penetrate it and parse it out, because maybe its beauty is in its reconstituted self as well?

Clear your afternoon and your evening as well. And then give it to someone you're interested in knowing better and talk about it.
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Andrew Daily, April 4, 2007 (view all comments by Andrew Daily)
Theodor Adorno once speculated whether there could be any art after Auschwitz. After having stared deep into the abyss, was there enough light left for humanity to stagger forward? Was beauty still possible and the sublime still accessible?

Primo Levi's books on his experience immediately put paid to that speculation by rediscovering humanity in the struggle against horror, whether through the occasional instances of solidarity between victims or the overwhelming resilience of Levi himself in resisting annihilation. Sebald's books continue this tradition: attempting to discover what enables men and women to keep on going in the face of, or haunted by the memory of, unspeakable horror.

Austerlitz tells the story of a man who wanders across Europe searching for his true origins. A beneficiary of the 'kindertransport' - the organized evacuation of Jewish babies from Central Europe to 'safe' Western European homes - Austerlitz works to uncover the fate of his family. His search stands in for Europe's collective difficulty in dealing with its past.

Sebald's style is spare and crystalline; his works of fiction resemble works of non-fiction, puncuated by his own status as the narrator of his fictions, and buttressed by the pictures that accompany the text, underlining his observations with visual evidence. The book is achingly beautiful and expresses a style of comportment, current among many intellectuals, a melancholy, that Americans frequently misinterpret as weakness, but is ultimately thoughtful and memorial, facing fully up to Europe's 'dark century.'
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Product Details

Sebald, W. G.
Modern Library
Sebald, Winfried Georg
New York
Historical fiction
Holocaust, jewish
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st U.S. paperback e
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Modern Library Paperbacks
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
September 3, 2002
Grade Level:
7.9 x 5.12 x .6 in .5 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Featured Titles

Austerlitz Used Trade Paper
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Product details 304 pages Modern Library - English 9780375756566 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , A "Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine" and "Entertainment Weekly" Best Book of 2001, "Austerlitz"--now in paperback--is the last and greatest work of fiction from one of the masters of world literature. Photos throughout.
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