Recommended: Austerlitz by W G Sebald

It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time.

At some time in the past, I thought, I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life.

who knows, said Austerlitz, perhaps moths dream as well, perhaps a lettuce in the garden dreams as it looks up at the moon by night.

These are a few of the many striking moments in this altogether fascinating book, one which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and certainly doesn’t need my little recommendation. Sebald’s novel is also interesting in the way it’s presented, including actual photographs which the narrator describes and discusses as real, adding to the illusion that this is not a novel but a biographical memoir of a genuine person. The story is alternately distracted and gripping, as it weaves in and out of a story of discovery and loss, of a man raised in Wales by a cold Christian preacher and his ultra-passive wife, who only later in life found out who he really was, who his parents had been and what had happened to them, Jews living in Prague in the 1930’s.

The book is as utterly convincing as Roberto Bolano’s 2666, which I recently read, and which I was reminded of through my reading of this one. Both authors excel at drawing you into a world that feels as solid as the ground under your feet. While so many books these days are directed at a wretched future, there is simply much more believable drama to be found in stories of our very real and wretched past.

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