W.G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and died in December 2001. He is the author of the highly acclaimed THE EMIGRANTS, THE RINGS OF SATURN and VERTIGO. Hamish Hamilton is publishing AFTER NATURE to coincide with the paperback of AUSTERLITZ.
The ghost of what historian Peter Gay calls "the bourgeois experience," molded in the liberalism and neurasthenia of the 19th century and destroyed in the wars and concentration camps of the 20th century, haunts W.G. Sebald's unique novels. His latest concerns the melancholic life of Jacques Austerlitz who, justifiably, exclaims, "At some point in the past, I thought, I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life." The unnamed narrator met Austerlitz, an architectural historian, in Belgium in the '60s, then lost track of his friend in the '70s. When they accidentally run into each other in 1996, Austerlitz tells the story that occupies the rest of the book the story of Austerlitz's life. For a long time, Austerlitz did not know his real mother and father were Prague Jews his first memories were of his foster parents, a joyless Welsh couple. While exploring the Liverpool Street railroad station in London, Austerlitz experiences a flashback of himself as a four-year-old. Gradually, he tracks his history, from his birth in Prague to a cultivated couple through his flight to England, on the eve of WWII, on a train filled with refugee children. His mother, Agata, was deported first to Theresienstadt and then, presumably, to Auschwitz. His father disappeared in Paris. Austerlitz's isolation and depression deepen after learning these facts. As Sebald's readers will expect, the novel is filled with scholarly digressions, ranging from the natural history of moths to the typically overbearing architecture of the Central European spas. In this novel as in previous ones, Sebald writes as if Walter Benjamin's terrible "angel of history" were perched on his shoulder. B&w photos. (Oct.) Forecast: Gambling (safely) on Sebald's progress from cult favorite to major figure, Random House has picked up the author from former publisher New Directions and is sending him on an author tour. Though his latest isn't as startling and exciting as The Emigrants or The Rings of Saturn, it is a significant achievement, and Sebald should continue to attract ever more attention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Sebald is the Joyce of the 21st Century" The Times
This tremendously emotional novel is far easier to sum up than to evaluate: Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian, tells his life story to the unnamed narrator over the course of 30 years. What unfolds is the tale of one man's search for the truth behind his identity after he learned that the Welsh couple who raised him are not his real parents. He discovers that his birth parents were Prague Jews who sent him to England in 1939 on a Kindertransport before being deported to concentration camps. Contrary to what some say, Sebald is not an easy read. In fact, this novel, much like his previous ones (The Emigrants, Vertigo), cries to be reread before it even ends. Sebald constructs the narrative as if to convey that even the mundane seems more meaningful if we are unaware of the facts. The black-and-white photographs scattered throughout do not add to the depth of the story, but they do add to its genuineness, serving to validate the events and reconstruct the novel as a tangible historical document. Ultimately, the narrative transcends fiction and becomes history. The overbearing details of architectural history that saturate much of the text are the only distractions. Ultimately, this is a work of rare originality. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Mirela Roncevic, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Winner of the Berlin Literature and Literatur Nord prizes and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, Sebald has previously been published here by New Directions but now jumps to a bigger house. The narrator recounts the story of his friend, Jacques Austerlitz, who came to Britain on a kindertransport and as an adult must painfully reconstruct his past. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.