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Book Review: Austerlitz

Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell

It takes decades for the man called Austerlitz to decide to uncover what he has been avoiding all this time: at the age of four, he was sent away from his home in Prague on the Kindertransport and given a new identity in “the little country town of Bala in Wales.”

Clearly, this is a very special book. It made me think and will make me continue to think. The introduction by James Wood (which I read at the end; otherwise it would have spoilt the novel for me) clarified some of its features for me. I can see reasons for the intentional randomness, the continuous prose, the perpetual distance of the main character, the anonymity of the narrator. I can discern parallels I didn’t notice at first. It’s quite possible this book deserves to be read a second time.

So it ticks a lot of boxes, but I found the format made it difficult to read and I’m not sure that it’s justified. The lack of chapters and for the most part even paragraphs meant that I didn’t know where to stop. I ended up making a rule for myself: I stopped at the first full stop after turning a page. This gave me too many possible stopping places. It also confused me, as I didn’t remember what came just before my starting place.

I’ve never read a book in one sitting, but I think that’s what this one needs.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

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