Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391
The first quotation I would select is from the point in the story when the title character first learns that his name is, in fact, Austerlitz, having been told so by the headmaster at school. His reaction:
At first, what disconcerted me most was that I could connect no ideas at all with the word Austerlitz. If my new name had been Morgan or Jones, I could have related it to reality.
Later, Austerlitz describes to the narrator a psychological crisis he is undergoing:
I came to realize how isolated I was and have always been, among the Welsh as much as among the English and French. It never occurred to me to wonder about my true origins, said Austerlitz, nor did I ever feel that I belonged to a certain social class, professional group, or religious confession.
When Austerlitz travels to Central Europe and begins to learn about his early history and that of his parents, he meets a woman named Vera who had been their neighbor and his nanny. She reports to him the situation at the time the Nazis were poised to take over Czechoslovakia:
Although little hint of it made its way out at the time, fear of the Germans spread through the whole city [Prague] like a creeping miasma.
Because of a semi-conscious sense of his background before it was made explicit to him, Austerlitz says,
I had always avoided learning anything at all about German topography, German history, or modern German life, and so . . . Germany was probably more unfamiliar to me than any other country in the world, more foreign even than Afghanistan or Paraguay.
An observation related to Austerlitz's own situation comes near the close of the story when Austerlitz is in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris:
We began a long, whispered conversation . . . about the dissolution, in line with the inexorable spread of processed data, of our capacity to remember.
Austerlitz was first published in 2001. The entire book focuses, in connection with its theme of the discovery of one's roots, on memory and remembrance. In our own time, as "processed data" becomes an even more widespread phenomenon, one can think of how much more true Austerlitz's observation is now than it was then. It ties in with the universal implications of his own fate, as singular as that fate might appear at first.
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