Austerlitz

Austerlitz

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.

Baker
& 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
0375504834
Branch Call Number: FICTION SEBALD
Characteristics: 298 p. ; 25 cm

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adam_cooper Feb 11, 2014

Austerlitz will take you on a haunting journey through the labyrinth of time and memory probing the latent trauma in post-holocaust Europe. Part travelogue, part fictional biography, part esoteric architectural history lesson Austerlitz, like all Sebald's books, defies easy categorization. Suffice to say this is the work of a genius.

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