Thursday, 31 December 2015

Austerlitz

Finished December 31
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

This is another unusual novel. Despite being over 400 pages, there are no chapters or even paragraphs to provide a natural stopping point when reading. The story is told by an unnamed narrator, and covers many years beginning in 1967 when he meets Jacques Austerlitz in Antwerp. The two strike up an acquaintance and meet several times again over the years.
In the early meetings they discuss architecture (Austerlitz is an architectural historian) and other impersonal subjects, but later Austerlitz begins to tell his story. He was raised in Wales by foster parents who gave him a new name and never discussed his history, but when his foster father dies while he is away at boarding school he is told his real name and reverts to it following school. He is mentored by one of his teachers and does well, and it is only after a sort of breakdown that he allows himself to investigate his past, discovering that he was sent to England in 1939 from the Czech Republic on a Kindertransport at the age of four. He gradually traces his parents back to their disappearances during the war, undergoing a couple more mental breakdowns as he does so.
This story then is a story of listening to someone else tell his story, and the reader is reminded of that many times. There are also many photographs and drawings throughout the book, each relating to the text where it occurs in some ways, but unattributed and undescribed specifically. Some are referred to in the text, but not all. This begins to make the book seem more than a novel, bringing in elements of memoir, and travel.

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