Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Title: Austerlitz

Author: W G Sebald

Number of pages: 432

Started: 5 November 2010

Finished: 10 November 2010

Opening words:

In the second half of the 1960s I travelled repeatedly from England to Belgium, partly for study purposes, partly for other reasons which were never entirely clear to me, staying sometimes for just one or two days, sometimes for several weeks. On one of these Belgian excursions which, as it seemed to me, always took me further and further abroad, I came on a glorious early summer’s day to the city of Antwerp, known to me previously only by name. Even on my arrival, as the train rolled slowly over the viaduct with its curious pointed turrets on both sides and into the dark station concourse, I had begun to feel unwell, and this sense of indisposition persisted for the whole of my visit to Belgium on that occasion. I still remember the uncertainty of my footsteps as I walked all round the inner city

Plot summary:

In 1967, the narrator bumps into a man in the salle de pas perdus of Antwerp's Central Station. Thus begins a long if intermittent acquaintance, during which he learns the life story of this stranger, retired architectural historian Jacques Austerlitz. Raised as Dafydd Elias by a strict Welsh Calvinist ministry family, it is only at school that Austerlitz learns his true name--and only years later, by a series of chance encounters, that he allows himself to discover the truth of his origins, as a Czech child spirited away from his mother and out of Nazi territory on the Kindertransport. He returns to confront the childhood traumas that have made him feel that "I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life."

What I thought:

This book consisted of three paragraphs. The first paragraph break was on about page 160. It therefore might not surprise you that this book seemed to be a long stream of thoughts, sometimes going off on tangents and then veering back on to the main thread.

Sebald’s book was interesting, and touching in places, but ultimately the rambling nature of the writing made it difficult to follow at times. I found that as the book went of on tangents and distractions, so did my mind, and I would drift back to following the text a while later. It was a book that had good moments but I felt these got lost in the overall narrative of the book.

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