Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
Throughout his life Austerlitz is haunted by feelings of otherness, but it is not until retirement that he embarks on a journey to make sense of his curious early memories and explores what happened to him half a century ago.
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.