Austerlitz

By W.G. Sebald,

Book cover of Austerlitz

Book description

This tenth anniversary edition of W. G. Sebald’s celebrated masterpiece includes a new Introduction by acclaimed critic James Wood. Austerlitz 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…

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Why read it?

4 authors picked Austerlitz as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I honestly felt my life had more meaning after I first read this book, as it touched on so much that was close to my heart.

I totally identified with the protagonist’s emotional journey: a childhood imbued with a sense of things lost and hidden, which, in adulthood, he tries to quell with erudition before the past erupts and he learns the truth of his tortured origins.

I found it really haunting and more in touch with the truth about the human condition than most books I’ve read. I’ve read it three times, once with my reading group, and I’m…

As a writer, I adored this novel for its love of language, elliptical sense of story, and refusal to lean on standard literary conventions such as plot, climax, resolution, or variations on hero/villain/victim formulae.

Though seemingly plotless, it tells the story of a person searching for his life’s origin story, biological parents, first home, and native country. Taken to England as a child on a Kindertransport, Jacques Austerlitz won’t learn of his real name until he's away at school. For anyone, myself included, who has been troubled by the mysteries of your origins, lost histories, hidden pasts, or family secrets,…

I picked up a paperback copy of this book at an airport store around twenty years ago. I was flying out to southern Germany and read the story of five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz who is sent to England on a Kindertransport and placed with foster parents in Wales. There, as was often the case in those days, the parents felt it best to erase his difficult past. But the past can’t be erased and later in life Austerlitz sets off on an odyssey across Europe and finds the past revisiting him. In many ways this book tells the story of twentieth-century…

In many ways unprecedented, the work of W.G. Sebald not only reimagined what literature was capable of but also went on to influence an entire generation of writers, including several others on this list. In this novel, Sebald’s last, the title character details his search for facts surrounding the circumstances of his youth, when he was shipped from Germany to Britain before the onset of World War II. Meditative and haunting, the writing itself is a form of search, blending fact with fiction to create something utterly compelling.

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