Reviews

Austerlitz

Kris Rothstein

W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (Vintage Canada) is a serious European novel. This translation (by Anthea Bell) still bears more than just a trace of the heaviness and denseness of the German language, which may discourage some readers. One night I flipped ahead of where I was, checking for a convenient place to put the book down and go to sleep. I turned page after page looking for the end of the paragraph I was reading, and finally got there after seventy-four pages. Then I got curious and flipped back to see where that paragraph had begun. It was another fifty pages. True, this text is broken up by abundant photos, drawings and schematics, but that is one long paragraph. Despite the monolith of text, I enjoyed the hypnotic style of this tale of self-discovery, told by Austerlitz (who has no first name) to the narrator (who has no name at all) over many years and through many European cities. The story begins with Austerlitz’s childhood as an evacuee in Wales during World War II and later crosses Europe to uncover a lost heritage and the brutal reality of the Holocaust. Austerlitz is told with a light touch and a sense of wonder, and its intensely personal take on history makes it much more effective in evoking the horrors of war than the bombastic morality tales that dominate the genre.

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