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Austerlitz
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Kristel (kristelh) | 4103 comments Mod
June BOTM Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald moderator, Diane.


message 2: by Diane (last edited Jun 02, 2020 02:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 2041 comments About the Book

Austerlitz is a 2001 novel by the German writer W. G. Sebald. It was Sebald's final novel. The book received the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2019, it was ranked 5th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.

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.

About the Author
Winfried Georg Sebald (18 May 1944 – 14 December 2001), known as W. G. Sebald or (as he preferred) Max Sebald, was a German writer and academic. At the time of his death at the age of 57, he was being cited by literary critics as one of the greatest living authors. He was born in Wertrach, Germany.

Questions to Answer Before Reading the book

1. Have you read any other books by Sebald? If so, which book or books?

2. What do you know about the Kindertransport? Have you read any other books about the topic?


message 3: by Diane (last edited Jun 01, 2020 03:21PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 2041 comments Discussion Questions (Caution: Spoilers!)

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?

11. What are your overall impressions of the book? Does it deserve its place on the 1001 list?


Diane Zwang | 1245 comments Mod
Questions to Answer Before Reading the book

1. Have you read any other books by Sebald? If so, which book or books? I see he has 4 books on the list. This will be my first book.

2. What do you know about the Kindertransport? Have you read any other books about the topic? I know of the Kindertransport but I have not read a book specific to this topic.

Since this book has been described as stream of consciousness, I am trying it as an audio book. Stream of consciousness is my least favorite style of book.


Gail (gailifer) | 1379 comments This is also my first book by Sebald.
I have heard of the Kindertransport and in fact have recently been reading about WWII, but I do not know about it with any depth.


Amanda Dawn | 1082 comments Whelp I breezed through the audiobook between today and yesterday, so I may as well answer these now.

Questions to Answer Before Reading the book

1. I’ve already read “The Emigrants” which I thought was good and had a somewhat haunting quality to it, but I think this one is going to stick with me more.

2. I know a little bit about the Kindertransport from documentaries and the like, and a book I read in high school about the Righteous among the nations. Here is a video about noted Kinderstransport hero Nicholas Winton that I watch whenever I want a good cry (in a touching way): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9VhK... . I also just found out via Wikipedia that Dr. Ruth the sexologist was a kindertransport kid? Amazing. Also there is a handful of Nobel Laureates on the list too: really remarkable.

Discussion Questions (Caution: Spoilers!)

1. I don’t know if he necessarily created a new genre, but he does seem to write in stream of consciousness/fragmented semi-factual fiction that is unique, especially with respect to integrating photos into his work. Pavel’s Letters by Monika Maron was similar in this respect. I take Austerlitz as fiction imbued with fact. It is loosely based on the stories of real kindertransport kids.

2. Well, this passed me by since I listened to the audio. Ah well, had I known maybe I would have bought the book. The Emigrants was full of pictures too. Given the reference to Pavel’s Letters above that did the same thing and is also about the holocaust, I think it serves to make real and tangible the people the story is about. It serves to make the reader look at them and reckon with what happened, and it defies the aim of the holocaust to erase Jewish people and their stories and knowledge of themselves.

3. It’s a French first name and an Austrian last name: so it does speak to an ambiguity of origin which fits the character. Historically it also calls to mind the battle of Austerlitz, something considered a “tactical masterpiece” (perhaps like the kindertransport successes?), and that resulted in the defeat of the Austrian Empire by Napoleon (somewhat similar to ally/axis lines in WWII). The book also mentions it was Fred Astaire’s original last name, maybe suggesting the promise of emigrants, even (or perhaps because of) being detached from who they were. There’s a lot of potentials there.

4. It seems to weave in and out, I was tripped up before getting back into it a couple times.

5. I actually had to look up what was unique about the language having listened to it on audio it didn’t seem that notable. Apparently a distinct lack of paragraphs is present that doesn’t come through via audible.

6. I found the weird understated ways his mother responds to the Nazi’s in Vera’s stories kind of darkly funny as if they were an inconvenience to her life and not, well, ya know. But then it also makes things sadder understanding how things go in hindsight. It reminded me of the movie “Jojo Rabbit” in that sense, based on how the mother in that talks about the Nazis as well.

7. My impression was that he liked traditional buildings like cathedrals and that in the book he says “architecture ended in the late 19th century”, he also lambasts several modernist buildings in the book. It seems to suggest an obsession with the bygone, and the ways that architecture of this variety represents the work and legacies that last throughout generations and bear enduring testament to those who used to be there. This fits really well into the themes of the book.

8. This aspect didn’t pop out to me to be honest but maybe I zoned out. Curious as to what other people think.

9. It seems to suggest that we protect ourselves from trauma sometimes through forgetfulness.

10. As for the last question here, I definitely think it represents that durability, and it does represent how physical artifacts link us to our stories and heritage, a great theme of the book (the references to architecture and the embedded photos contribute to this as well).

11. I really appreciated this book and thought it was strong overall, I gave it 4 stars. I would likely keep it on the 1001 list. There are a lot of books about the holocaust on the list, and overall I thought this one was stronger than at least a few of the others.


message 7: by Kristel (last edited Jun 03, 2020 03:11AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kristel (kristelh) | 4103 comments Mod
Response to prequestions. I have not read any Sebald. My guess as to what kindertransport is; transporting the children. My guess is that this is about moving the young people out of Germany during WWII. Now will see how close I get.

I am looking forward to reading the book but also have some anxieties that it may not be to my liking. I also am listening to the book. Some SOC works better than others. So will be starting this today.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4103 comments Mod
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?
It is a bit of stream of conscious and historical fiction. Structure was creative but I don't think any of these things are really new or are they?

2. Why do you suppose Sebald incorporates photographs into his work? To what effect? Cause I listened to an audio book, I really cannot comment on effect. I think it would be nice to have a print copy to consult while listening.


3. Where does the name Jacques Austerlitz come from? Why do you think Sebald chose it?
I have nothing more to add from what Dawn had to say. He did choose Austerlitz for his name from where he was from as claiming his identity.

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?
because it is told in first person from a variety of people from different time. Time is also compared to a water so time is moving and fluid.

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?
like Diane said, I listened to it which made the lack of paragraphs and sentences that take 7 pages really just did not cause the same jarring the printed book would have. In addition, the author used a variety langueges; English, French, German, etc. It gives the picture of the travels that Austerlitz made in search of his identity

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?
Can't really respond here because I didn't take notes.

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?
But I liked this one;
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“Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less then normal size – the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, lockkeepers's lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children's bothy in the garden – are those 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 in the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which 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.”

9. What does the novel have to say about the mind's defenses against great trauma?
Forgetfulness is protective.

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? I think that this is a way of having a continuation even after death. I liked the use of archecture. One of our previous 1001, talked about architecture was a way of writing before there was books to read.

11. What are your overall impressions of the book? Does it deserve its place on the 1001 list? I rated it 3.4 stars. I think it is a book to read several times. I would like to get a print copy to also consult to get the full impact. I think the structure and pictures were important.


message 9: by Pip (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pip | 1408 comments 1. I read this book a year ago, so willl not be re-reading. It was my first by Sebald.
2. I don't recall reading any books specifically about children rescued during the war and sent to Britain.
1 & 2. The distinction between fact and fiction comes up again! This is fiction based on hostorical data. The inclusion of photographs to mimic non-fiction could be a new genre.
3. The character thought he came from Austerlitz.
4. Time is not treated in a linear fashion in this book.
5 & 6 I have forgotten these aspects, if I did, indeed, notice them at the time.
7. Nineteenth century railway stations. He did not rate twentieth century architecture a la Prince Charles.


message 10: by Pip (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pip | 1408 comments This was my review at the time which addresses questions 9 & 11 I think,
This earned a solid 5 stars from me. The writing was brilliant and intriguing. Although it was fiction it read like a biography, and it was interspersed with photos, pretty grainy in my edition, but that may have been deliberate. The story was framed. It is the story of a person named Jacques Austerlitz who quite late in life discovers that he was a Czech refugee who was brought up in ignorance of his background by an austere religious couple in Wales. Austerlitz is fascinated by historical architecture and his story, whiich he relates to the narrator over many years in a series of chance encounters which are too coincidental to be really believable. Austerliz recounts stories from people he meets, so the book reads as a story twice removed. Some readers have found this distancing off-putting, the "Austerlitz said that so-and-so said" over and over again, but I really liked it. The fact that Austerlitz had buried memories that were only revealed to him later in life resonated with me. Although my story is much less dramatic, I also buried deep within the desire to know my origins until my adoptive parents died. Within minutes of my mother dying I was searching her documents for any trace of my parenthood. I only discovered who my father was at the ripe old age of 74. So the theme of repressed memory was poignant. My only criticism of the book is that it ended really abruptly with no resolution. I wondered if the writer had really finished it or had intended a different ending.


Diane  | 2041 comments Pip wrote: "This was my review at the time which addresses questions 9 & 11 I think,
This earned a solid 5 stars from me. The writing was brilliant and intriguing. Although it was fiction it read like a biogra..."


Great review! I like your perspective of the novel. I just read another of his books this month (Vertigo). It also has pictures incorporated into the story, although not all of them seemed very relevant.


message 12: by Diane (last edited Jun 19, 2020 11:19PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 2041 comments I read this a couple of years ago, so it isn't fresh in my mind. I read The Emigrants first, and really liked it. I recently finished Vertigo, which I also liked a lot. This book was my least favorite of the three. I had a difficult time with it. The writing is lovely, but I didn't care for the structure.


message 13: by Gail (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1379 comments 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?

I am not sure it is a new genre but the use of photographs which work to support a sense of historical realism and the lack of character development in the narrator/writer coupled with the non-stop stream of his main character's story makes it rather unique in my reading experience.

2. Why do you suppose Sebald incorporates photographs into his work? To what effect?

The photographs both pull you out of the narration and give you a sense that he is talking about real people who did real things. However, the reader is never convinced that the photos really always directly relate to the story. Sometimes we believe we are seeing the exact architectural details that Austerlitz is speaking about, but at other times the photographs work to alert you that they can be as fictional as any words. For example, Austerlitz's friend flys a Cessna and the plane in the photograph is not a Cessna. In another example, the Turner painting he refers to is a copy of a Turner but it is a badly reproduced and brown and white version of Turner. You are definitely not seeing or feeling the essence of this Turner but you are given to believe that the character saw the real Turner. Throughout the book this became a nice play that I enjoyed.
Also, the book formatting was such that there are very few "breaks" and the photographs gave me those breaks.
I like breaks.


3. Where does the name Jacques Austerlitz come from? Why do you think Sebald chose it?

Austerlitz is the location of a major Napoleonic Battle in which the French defeated the Austro-Russian army. At one time a region in Austria but now in the Czech Republic. Austerlitz reflects a place the MC barely remembers and which has little to nothing to do with his upbringing, and yet nevertheless gives him a sense of place in this world that Wales, where he actually grew up, never did.


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?

Austerlitz's memory is capable of retaining a huge amount of detail including architectural details, what events happened exactly when and what other people said to him at the time of the events. The book has long passages of detailed memories. However, when he comes to speaking about what he said it is usually: "I do not remember what I responded" or "I do not remember how I felt". Austerlitz has a prodigious memory of the past but he himself does not seem to exist in that past. Austerlitz always appears to be viewing himself from a distance and although we learn a great deal about his upbringing, his education and his breakdowns, we never seem to really get into the character. Also, our narrator/writer of Austerlitz's memories only mentions once in the book that he went back to his room to write everything down. Otherwise we are happy to listen directly to Austerlitz rather than "the writer". This writer comes and goes and we get no sense of why he travels or why he listens to Austerlitz. Sebald does use foreshadowing throughout the book. We know that Austerlitz has a breakdown well before we hear that part of the story for example.


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?

The play with memory is quite creative and the language usage keeps memory as brown and fuzzy as the photographs even though there is SO much detail in the language. The amount of times that we are reminded exactly who is speaking gives the language a stop and start rhythm and layers the meaning. Example: "Nonetheless, said Vera, Austerlitz continued, Maximillian did not in any way believe that..."
So our author Sebald is writing about a writer/narrator traveler who has befriended Austerlitz who is recounting his story in which his nanny Vera is remembering Austerlitz's father believing....The reader, me, is five people removed....
The sense of personal loss and displacement permeates the book and is counter balanced with those hard edges of history and architecture which survive and often define the age rather than an individuals' personal story. To quote Sebald:

"I had constantly been preoccupied by that accumulation of knowledge which I had pursued for decades and which served as a substitute or compensatory memory."

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?

I do not recall much low-key gallows humor. There were interesting little stories that had a bittersweet humor to them, such as the story about the squirrel...and his remembering where the nuts were hidden...
There were moments where the photographs made me laugh out loud....there is one of a man smiling happily out at us, the readers, and he seems completely displaced.

7. What type of architecture most appeals to Austerlitz? What do you make of this fascination?

He is mostly interested in very intricate drawings of old forts, 19th century railway stations and domed windows and stairways. The quote above under 5) also answers this question.

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?

The pigeons are famous for their ability to find their way home, but in this book, the "home" moves and the character misses them terribly. We also have the already mentioned squirrel that hides food everywhere and who Austerlitz as a child can not image that they can find the food when it is covered with snow. The moths lose not only their orientation but their will, they give up and die in place. The sense of being dis-oriented is a constant theme throughout the book.

9. What does the novel have to say about the mind's defenses against great trauma?

Austerlitz at first fights any understanding or reflection on his trauma by not remembering it and instead making the choice to not really live. When he realizes after his breakdown that he needs a different way of confronting his trauma, he sets out to find his mother and father or any trace left of them and proceeds to build a memory that is actually as foreign to his actual experience as anything else. He also clearly has a need to have someone else listen to his story in order to make it real.

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?

I don't know, it did not feel like that to me. It was just another example of the question of displacement, what were these graves doing here so far from their ancestral home? A cemetery is a strange metaphor for "durability". However, I can see how a cemetery reflects the 19th century architecture that becomes "history".

11. What are your overall impressions of the book? Does it deserve its place on the 1001 list?

It was quite unique and I found it to be an enjoyable read even though it didn't have an ending..


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments 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?

I read this during backpack Europe challenge a couple summers ago, so will do my best to answer. I think this is what I call biographical fiction. Part fact/part fiction.

2. Why do you suppose Sebald incorporates photographs into his work? To what effect?

No idea they were there -- I listened.


3. Where does the name Jacques Austerlitz come from? Why do you think Sebald chose it?

I don't remember...

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?

He used multiple narrators and points of view. I feel like the time was fluid thanks to this technique of using intimate first person.

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?

Audiobook, so the long sentences didn't affect me in anyway. Stream of consciousness works perfectly on audio. I did like his use of multiple languages. It emphasized the multiple times and places.

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?

I don't recall.

7. What type of architecture most appeals to Austerlitz? What do you make of this fascination?

I don't recall.

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?

I don't recall.

9. What does the novel have to say about the mind's defenses against great trauma?

Forgetfulness is protective. I liked this as I have found it applicable to lots of 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?

It allows the story to continue... the story of Judaism.

11. What are your overall impressions of the book? Does it deserve its place on the 1001 list?

I remember liking it a lot. But two years later it hasnt stuck with me...


Diane Zwang | 1245 comments Mod
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?

The Introduction tells us the pictures are real but not factual. When Austerlitz learns of his true name he questions who he is. When he returns to the Czech Republic he has memories that come forward. He also sees things like his parents in their 30s or people walking on the road who really aren't there. We are in Austerlitz head. The ghetto in Terezin in which he sees it still full of inhabitants instead of empty.

2. Why do you suppose Sebald incorporates photographs into his work? To what effect?

To give authenticity to his story. It worked for me, I enjoyed the pictures. The introduction states the pictures are fictional.

3. Where does the name Jacques Austerlitz come from? Why do you think Sebald chose it?

“while Agata's rather more colorful notion of the ideal world was inspired by the works of Jacques Offenbach, whom she admired enormously, which incidentally, said Vera, was the reason for my first name, not a usual one among Czechs.” “But Austerlitz is primarily not the name of a person but of a famous battle, and of a well-known Parisian train station.” In the introduction there is mention of the similarities of Austerlitz to Auschwitz.

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?

“It does not seem to me, Austerlitz added, that we understand the laws governing the return of the past, but I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like, and the longer I think it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision.”

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?
This is not a traditional novel at all.

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?

I did not find any humor in this book, it was too subtle for me to detect.

7. What type of architecture most appeals to Austerlitz? What do you make of this fascination?

Architecture triggered memories for Austerlitz like at the train station in London when he arrived on the Kindertransport.

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?

I felt a connection with the outside world. Scenery was always described in great detail, as well as animals and the weather.

11. What are your overall impressions of the book? Does it deserve its place on the 1001 list
Yes


Patrick Robitaille | 931 comments 1. Have you read any other books by Sebald? If so, which book or books?

I have read Vertigo previously, which I found absolutely fascinating.

2. What do you know about the Kindertransport? Have you read any other books about the topic?

Considering how many books and stories I have read about the (mis)treatment of Jewish people by the Nazis, I am surprised that I didn’t hear about the Kindertransport before. Or maybe it was embedded in one or other of these stories, but not named specifically.

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?

Even though some mention about stream of consciousness, this is not exactly the case, as the narrator re-tells almost verbatim what Austerlitz said in their conversations. Even though there are plenty of facts disseminated throughout the book, it is still a story about a fictional character, Jacques Austerlitz, which could very well represent the experience of a Kindertransport “migrant”.

2. Why do you suppose Sebald incorporates photographs into his work? To what effect?

To provide more strength and validity to Austerlitz’s story, to the point where the reader can take the fiction almost as fact.

3. Where does the name Jacques Austerlitz come from? Why do you think Sebald chose it?

Austerlitz refers to the battle of the same name won by Napoleon and the Grande Armée of France in 1805. It was the old name of the town Slavkov u Brna, located in the Czech Republic; it is therefore not a coincidence that Jacques Austerlitz was living in Prague before being evacuated on the Kindertransport. Jacques is a French name, echoing Napoleon and his famous battle. It should be noted that Austerlitz’s dad was captured in France, while his mother was walked to and died in the Theresienstadt ghetto in the Czech Republic.

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?

Time is very fluid and permeable in this book. Very often, the narrator and Austerlitz jump from one idea to another as something, some detail triggers a recollection about something else; yet, they always managed to get back to the main narrative thread. Further, the reader is at times several times removed from the current narrator, both in person and in time. For example, there were a few occasions where the narrator said “mentioned Austerlitz, Vera said, …

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?

My answer in 4 kind of covers this too.

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?

I might have missed the joke(s), but I couldn’t really detect any humor at all.

7. What type of architecture most appeals to Austerlitz? What do you make of this fascination?

He was quite attracted by military fortifications (e.g. Breendonk) which ended being used as Nazi concentration camps. Theresienstadt was also a military fortress town. Each of these fortresses with their design induce in the narrator and Austerlitz a strong sense of isolation, paralleling the isolation of Austerlitz’s life.

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?

I noticed the presence of animals, but I didn’t pay attention to their orientation skills. Pigeons have been mentioned regularly.

9. What does the novel have to say about the mind's defenses against great trauma?

As many mentioned, forgetfulness is protection, but it appears to me that the author focused more on intentional forgetfulness (e.g. the passage about the construction of the new Bibliothèque Nationale and the fact that it is more difficult to research the past) than unintentional, gradual forgetfulness through the passage of time.

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?

He noticed the cemetery by accident, just as he found out about his real origins by “accident”, when his foster father died.

11. What are your overall impressions of the book? Does it deserve its place on the 1001 list?

I quite liked it, but I will have to read this again. Another facet of the Holocaust, but it does deserve its place on the List because of how Sebald has written it.


message 17: by Book (new) - rated it 3 stars

Book Wormy | 1984 comments Mod
1. I am not sure it does however it walks a fine balance between fact & fiction, it incorporates pictures and it is written in SOC.


2. I think the photos are included to add authenticity, to say look here is a picture what I am telling you is true.


3. I think everyone has covered this well already.


4. Austerlitz story continues as if it had never stopped even though there may be a leap of several years from the last time he spoke to the narrator.


5. I didn't find anything distinctive about the language perhaps that is lost in translation. I did find the use of "Austerlitz said" occurred frequently throughout the narrative often jarring me out of the story.


6. Personally I didn't find anything funny black humour or otherwise.


7. Ceilings and railway stations I noticed he seemed to be captured by the construction of both and normally in conjunction with each other. I think this related to the railway journey as a small child.


8. Not sure on this one I noticed the pigeons that could always get home even walking with a broken wing. Perhaps that was an advantage over humans who may never actually realise they are not in their original home. Squirrels and nuts again maybe a worry about where his own food would come from in relation to the journey.


9. To forget is the minds best defence. If you can't remember then it didn't actually happen to you.


10. Another deep question both discovered accidentally and both bring their own memories. Not really sure.

11. This was a quick read for a 400 odd page book however personally I didn't like it. I dislike SOC writing and I hated the fact there were no paragraph spaces eyes need to rest and this didn't allow for that, even the pictures were inserted in the middle of sentences so I couldn't even use those as a break point.

I am out of touch with the group on this one but I can only rate it 3 stars I didn't hate it but I obviously missed whatever it is that made the others love it.

I would still say this deserves its place on the list even if it wasn't for me.


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