Study Guide

Austerlitz

by W. G. Sebald

Austerlitz Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

More than any of his other novels, Austerlitz is Sebald’s meditation on the power of memory and its role in the creation, transformation, and destruction of identity. Like his previous books, Austerlitz weaves fact and fiction, documentary and reality, photographs and writing into a powerful exploration of human psyche. However, unlike Vertigo, The Emigrants, and The Rings of Saturn, Austerlitz contains a relatively straightforward plot that most readers can follow without much difficulty. The characters often speak interchangeably and without quotation marks to distinguish the speaker, but Jacques Austerlitz does not meander too far off his path when he tells his story.

Late in life, Austerlitz sets out to learn his history. Raised as Dafyyd Elias in Wales, he is now living in England, which he believes to be his native country. Austerlitz barely remembers his parents, and it takes some intense archival work for him to discover anything about his early life in Prague. Born in Czechoslovakia, Austerlitz’s Jewish mother—who could not leave the country—sent her son to England in one of the many Kindertransports organized in Czechoslovakia before World War II to save children. The narrator meets up with Austerlitz in Belgium, where they strike up a friendship based on their mutual love of history and architecture. Ten years later, the two meet again in London, where Austerlitz begins to tell the story of his origins, unfolding for himself and the narrator his own identity and history.

...

(The entire section is 641 words.)