2009: 31. Austerlitz

“In the second half of the 1960s I traveled repeatedly from England to Belgium, partly for study purposes, partly for other reasons which were never entirely clear to me, staying sometimes for just one or two days, sometimes for several weeks.”

Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald


This is the third novel I’ve read by Sebald (the others are The Rings of Saturn which I appreciated but didn’t love, and The Emigrants, which was one of the best books I read last year).  It is the same manner as those books - the Sebald style, blending fact and fiction.  In this novel the fiction has more narrative than The Rings of Saturn - it tells (in Sebald’s discursive story) the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who has lived a closed and cold academic life, with little connection to anyone else, but who comes to realize, late in life, that he was actually the child of Czechoslovakian Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.  Austerlitz was sent to Wales at age four where he was raised by a minister and his wife, and he forgot his past.   As he comes to remember his past, he travels across Europe confronting it past and it all comes back to him.  He tells the story, over many strange and sort of dream-like meetings, to the nameless narrator, and like The Emigrants, the novel becomes a sort of story of Europe and the way that it was rewritten by the acts of the Second World War.


And, oh! It broke my heart when his mother sent him away.  I am so susceptible to mothers and children (and sons), but to think of that woman putting her baby on that train, well, I’m tearing up now.  How can we face the things terrible we’ve done to each other, and the horribly brave things people have done to save the people they love?


Date/Place Completed: March 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017