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by Winfried Georg Sebald

Book Description
Austerlitz, the internationally acclaimed masterpiece by “one of the most gripping writers imaginable” (The New York Review of Books), is the story of a man’s search for the answer to his life’s central riddle. A small child when he comes to England on a Kindertransport in the summer of 1939, one Jacques Aus-terlitz is told nothing of his real family by the Welsh Methodist minister and his wife who raise him. When he is a much older man, fleeting memories return to him, and obeying an instinct he only dimly understands, he follows their trail back to the world he left behind a half century before. There, faced with the void at the heart of twentieth-century Europe, he struggles to rescue his heritage from oblivion.

From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 12:41 PM I will start it, but surely the first note should not be posted by possible the most unimpressed reader of Austerlitz here. Still, I did read it except for 12 or 15 pages somewhere near the middle. Got to be the most boring book I have ever finished. In spite of comments at Amazon like "Beautifully sad" and "A completely breathtaking experience," I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this book. The choice of dispensing with paragraphs and chapters may be quirky and artistic, but it doesn't serve the narrative in any way that I get. The decision to have an unnamed acquaintance being told and retelling the story was especially annoying. Am I really supposed to believe that he remembers Austerlitz's talks verbatim, with every little detail and embellishment, in order to record them hours later? (I don't.) Am I really supposed to believe that he never interrupts to ask a question? (I don't.) Am I supposed to believe that anyone talks the way Austerlitz talks? (I don't.) Are the pictures in the book supposed to make up for the dreadful experience of reading the book? They don't. The fact is, I can appreciate that the life of Austerlitz told by another author in another way might be a book I would like. But the best thing I have accomplished by reading this is to know I'll never read another book by Sebald. Tonya Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 12:56 PM I tend to agree with you, Tonya, and I nominated the damn thing. It's funny. I enjoyed this a great deal on tape, and thought reading it would be great. Ha. I've been giving a great deal of thought about how this points up the differences between an audiobook and a print book. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I listened to it about 40 minutes at at time, while taking my morning walk. That made me go slowly thru the book. Also, on tape, you are forced to listen carefully to every word. No skimming. No thinking ahead, wondering what's going to come next. In that way you are forced to wallow in detail. And that's about the only way the detail and digression of this book CAN be enjoyed. That said, the audiobook struck me as a wonderful meditation on memory and how it works. With the subtext of the mystery of Austerlitz and his parents to spice it up. Of course on tape, there were no pictures. And why DO we have pictures? Does anybody have an idea on that? I found myself wondering if Sebald had found a bunch of old photos and then written a story around them. Here's a link to a review in Salon Magazine: R
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 01:01 PM Tonya: what you said! I am typing this with a grin on my face, because I am right there with you. I haven't finished it yet, and I do think it becomes more interesting once Austerlitz is in Czechoslovakia discovering his past, but over all the book hasn't matched the reviews. (A big disappointment; I think I voted for this book!) I wholly agree that the quirky set-up, odd photos and all, is just a distraction and detraction from the reading experience. I want to get to the end just to be able to judge this book fairly (OK, to be able to rip into it the way Tonya did) but so far I also have the sense that this was an opportunity lost. Mary Ellen
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 02:27 PM To be fair, Ruth, I voted for it. Wouldn't have if I had checked inside the book, I am sure. But it survived the process I apply to the nominations list. Mary Ellen, Just don't do it. There is nothing at the end that redeems the reading. It is about memory, and you have surely read enough to get that. I have begun a book now that begins with style and proceeds apace, and can only kick myself for the week I wasted on AUSTERLITZ. Toss it aside! Get yourself a copy of Desperate Characters by Paula Fox! We will discuss with great respect and enthusiasm... Tonya Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 08:18 PM Now I am feeling really, really bad about my posts here. There are some lovely scenes buried in this book, honest. Don't let my harsh opinions rain on the discussion! Tonya Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.
From: Mary Anne Papale Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 08:59 PM I read Austerlitz 3 months ago, and I'll be darned if I can recall anything compelling that I want to discuss. I guess I can say that I liked the presentation. I mean that if I ever had a friend who went on to become famous, I might try to recreate this sort of "I knew him when" type of narrative. I'll have to refer back to the book to participate any further in a discussion. MAP
From: Dale Short Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 09:41 PM No, no, no, Tonya. Don't ever hold back. I got a kick out of your note because it expressed much of my own frustration in dealing with AUSTERLITZ. There's a core of something here (I keep telling myself, being at about the halfway point) that's vital and convincing enough to keep me reading, and there's some beautiful, if dense and convoluted, prose. But it's been a long time since a book has tried my patience in exactly this way. The whole idea of photos in a work of fiction is a turnoff for me. I try to be open-minded, but the pictures keep intruding on that most basic and intimate contract between reader and writer, i.e. envisioning in one's own mind the world that the words evoke. But, I'm hanging in. I think. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Tonya Presley Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 12:53 PM >>>Ruth said: I found myself wondering if Sebald had found a bunch of old photos and then written a story around them. I loved that one photo, on the cover. And in fact they all look very genuine, old, whatever; but there is a credit in the book for the photographer so I think they were created to go with the book, not vice versa. If you wondered, like me, just what Bechterew's Disease is, I looked it up. (You may recall this disease was crippling his friend's great uncle, where he spent boarding school holidays.) Bechterew's Disease (Ankylosing spondylitis) Definition Bechterew's disease is also called Marie Strumpell disease, rheumatoid spondylitis, and ankylosing spondylitis. Ankylosing is a term meaning rigid or stiff. Spondyl refers to the spine, while itis means inflammation. This is rheumatoid arthritis of the spine and affects young males predominantly, producing pain and stiffness as a result of inflammation of the sacroiliac, intervertebral, and costovertebral joints. It may progress to cause complete spinal and thoracic rigidity. Description Rheumatoid spondylitis is a serious ailment that affects males almost exclusively. There is stiffening of the spinal joints and ligaments, so that movement becomes increasingly painful and difficult. When it runs its full course, it results in bony ankylosis of the vertebral joint. The stiffening may extend to the ribs and limit the flexibility of the rib cage, so that breathing is impaired. Tonya Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 01:18 PM Had a friend with it. Developed while he was in the navy in WWII. For many years he was a medical subject for training doctors. Locked in his posture, to turn his head he turned his whole body. Drove a car. A jolly, fun person. pres How do I know what I think until I see what I say?
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 03:36 PM Tonya, I'm almost at the end and have nothing else to read on the subway going home today, so I'll probably finish Austerlitz. I'm going out of the country for 6 weeks of meetings in a few days. If I can get "Desperate Characters" before then (can't use my reliable library, darn) I'll bring it with me! I agree with Dale, Tonya: don't hold back! There's nothing quite as wickedly funny as reading a review of something the reviewer really hated... especially when you agree! As to the photos, many of them are dark. Maybe they express the state of Austerliz's mind. (He refers to taking pictures often so I've assumed many of them, except the ones from the 30's, 40's, etc., are supposed to be his.) I found them uniformly depressing. Maybe that was Sebald's goal. Why the name Austerlitz? Mary Ellen
From: R Bavetta Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 04:10 PM One redeeming light. Towards the end, there's an hilariously wicked review of the new Paris Bibliotheque National. Starts on page 275 of my version. Almost worth the price of admission. Almost. R
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 10:23 PM I agree that no one should hold back about book reviews, whether you love it or hate it. This book reminded me of some of the 18th century novels that I read, most particularly MANON LESCAUT. There is a narrator who runs into the Chevalier Des Grieux a couple of times and during those two meetings Des Grieux tells the narrator his very tragic story. I think this technique was used in those days to make the story seem more realistic. In AUSTERLITZ, it was just annoying. There are passages that are interrupted by "Marie recalled, Austerlitz said". I kept thinking, "just lose the *%^$# narrator!" I did like Austerlitz's view of time and of dead people, that both are there at all times. You exist as a baby and at your current age, as do your parents. It was a bit Proustian. I feel that contracting of time when I visit an historical site like a chateau in France or an old house somewhere. Austerlitz could see his young parents and was waiting for them to enter the room. I sometimes feel that when I am looking at old photos of my family. There is a lot of superfluous material in the book, but the search for the past is fascinating I think. Jane
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, June 17, 2004 01:13 PM Ruth, I did enjoy that bit about the Bibliotheque Nationale. (I wondered whether Sebald had Austerlitz go there just so he, Sebald, could get that out of his system!) In the context of this book, it seems silly to call anything a SPOILER, but... did I miss the significance of the narrator's visit to the Belgian (?) prison camp at the end of the book? I read through twice, and I didn't get it. Mary Ellen
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, June 18, 2004 08:13 AM I've only read about one-third of this book so far, so I've held off reading these comments. I didn't have such a negative impression of the first-third, anyway, as some of you. I did wonder why the narrator was there to distance us from Austerlitz. Sometimes there was a narrator within a narrator within a narrator. Those times were confusing. I will probably finish the book, because I'm just like that. I'm now preparing for a trip to Wisconsin, so it will be a long time before I ever get to sit down and read it. I hope I haven't lost all ability to follow the slender thread by that time. I agree with the rest, Tonya, don't hold back on your dislike of a book. If we all liked all the books the same, there would be very little to discuss. Sherry
From: Tonya Presley Date: Sunday, June 20, 2004 01:20 PM So.... is that about it? Tonya Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot.
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Sunday, June 20, 2004 08:56 PM I keep waiting for someone else to jump in and discuss the whole theme of the dead people lurking around the world and the whole time thing. Didn't that interest anyone else? Jane
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, June 20, 2004 08:57 PM Dead people lurking? Did I miss something? R
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Sunday, June 20, 2004 09:00 PM Ruth, Even at the beginning ,when Austerlitz was a boy in Wales, he felt the existance of dead people in the surrounding area. One of the local merchants tells him about the ghosts in the area. AS an adult Austerlitz seems to feel the presence of the dead in the train stations as well. Jane
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, June 20, 2004 09:27 PM That's right, Jane. Good thought. I'd forgotten that stuff in the beginning and never thought to connect it to the continuing sense of the dead that Austerlitz seemed to have. R
From: Sherry Keller Date: Saturday, July 10, 2004 05:48 PM I finished this today. I interrupted it to read two other books. I actually enjoyed it more than the rest of you seem to have, but I was totally confused (and bored) by the last few pages (I thought maybe the two-book interruption had something to do with that). I was expecting some solution to a mystery, but all I got was more going places and more descriptions of things. Someone else asked the question, and I will re-ask it here. Was there some significance to the narrator's going to the Belgian prison and seeing the markings on the wall? Were we supposed to be able to translate the French? I know a bit, but am not proficient. My fantasy is that he found Austerlitz's father, but if so, it was surely couched in obscurity. Sherry


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