Austerlitz’s story is told through his conversations with the novel’s unnamed narrator. The two men meet from time to time over the course of years, sometimes by appointment and sometimes by coincidence. Their conversations wander, as conversations do, and so do the ruminations of the narrator … It isn’t difficult to guess what happened to Austerlitz’s parents; even his own mind tries to protect him from the truth by conceiving an unexamined aversion to the German language and 20th-century European history. And yet, Sebald implies, inside each of us lies an impulse toward understanding, toward remembrance and toward feeling that fights to escape into the open air and will give us no peace if we deny it … The seemingly miscellaneous digressions in Austerlitz are pieces of a puzzle that, when assembled, form a man’s soul and make him whole again for the first time in decades.
Sebald's past is a parabola. It arcs up to meet us, and when it arcs down it pulls us with it...The past cripples Sebald's characters. They are subject to illness and sudden breakdown, invaded by dreams less specific than nightmares and, on that account, more estranging … Sebald stands with Primo Levi as the prime speaker of the Holocaust and, with him, the prime contradiction of Adorno's dictum that after it, there can be no art. After it, perhaps, only art … Sebald, though in no current sense a postmodernist, has left far behind modernism's vision of a world in fragments. His vision, on the contrary, is of a terrible connectedness. In Austerlitz he deploys it unremittingly.
Mr. Sebald uses the same anomalous technique in this volume as he has in his last three books, combining fiction, reportage, photographs and travel writing in a digression-filled narrative that has the resonant texture of a memoir … Embedded in these asides is the story of Austerlitz himself, whose ongoing conversations with the book's nameless narrator slowly assume the shape of an autobiography … Austerlitz tells the narrator of his belated search for his past – how he revisited his childhood home in Prague, retraced his journey to England and tried to find clues to his parents' fates...Despite the gratuitous device of the narrator, Austerlitz possesses a harrowing emotional power.
Austerlitz is the story of one such bitter attempt to wake up into history's nightmare, and it is Sebald's most direct confrontation so far with the aftereffects of the genocide … The photographs embedded in Austerlitz, as in all of Sebald's books, seem less mannered and arbitrary here because the narrative itself turns so powerfully on the need to preserve whatever fragments one can against the ruin of forgetfulness … The numerous interminable hesitations and digressions, although thematically justifiable as Austerlitz's way of avoiding more disturbing, personal questions, are simply too long and too improbable to sustain one's interest.
His latest concerns the melancholic life of Jacques Austerlitz who, justifiably, exclaims, ‘At some point in the past, I thought, I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life’ … Austerlitz's isolation and depression deepen after learning these facts … In this novel as in previous ones, Sebald writes as if Walter Benjamin's terrible ‘angel of history’ were perched on his shoulder.