Synopses & Reviews
Austerlitz, the internationally acclaimed masterpiece by "one of the most gripping writers imaginable" (The New York Review of Books), is the story of a mans search for the answer to his lifes central riddle. A small child when he comes to England on a Kindertransport in the summer of 1939, one Jacques Austerlitz is told nothing of his real family by the Welsh Methodist minister and his wife who raise him. When he is a much older man, fleeting memories return to him, and obeying an instinct he only dimly understands, he follows their trail back to the world he left behind a half century before. There, faced with the void at the heart of twentieth-century Europe, he struggles to rescue his heritage from oblivion.
About the Author
W. G. Sebald
was born in Wertach im Allgäu, Germany, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland, and Manchester. He taught at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, for thirty years, becoming professor of European literature in 1987, and from 1989 to 1994 was the first director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. His previously translated books—The Rings of Saturn
, The Emigrants
, and Austerlitz
—have won a number of international awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times
Book Award, the Berlin Literature Prize, and the Literatur Nord Prize. He died in December 2001.
From the Hardcover edition.
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?