Book review: Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald

In review

W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz was a gift from an office christmas party some seven years ago. The kris kringle’s mechanics was uniquely efficient: The person who picked your name would only choose one in a list of three items you wanted to receive.

I’ve always committed to reading it that year, and in those past eight years, but only got to finishing a couple of pages past James Wood’s fantastic introduction. This has been kept in multiple messenger bags and backpacks, inside office pedestals… I was able to retrieve it after it had been stuck (forgotten) in my locker in Taguig for a year.

It took me a while to get used to the book’s overall tone (sober and scholarly): simply put, it’s a story told by an old man named Jacques Austerlitz by way of an unnamed narrator. What I love about it is its masterful omission of what most narratives around the Holocaust would consider as its climax: the genocide, the war, the brutality of the Nazis. Its treatment complements my graphic novel read last year, “Berlin” by Jason Lutes. While Berlin is a fragmented, omniscient dissection of German society before Hitler’s ascendancy, Austerlitz exalts the personal, i.e. Jacques, his discursive monologues, and the past – as one of the kids covertly escaping Nazi Germany via the Kindertransport – that he’s tried to bury for so long.

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