Book #83: Austerlitz

W.G. Sebold’s Austerlitz blindsided me.

I’d been looking forward to reading it for several years. I knew it dealt, somewhat, with the Holocaust, Jews, and memory. It shouldn’t be any secret by now that I’m pretty interested in those things. I’d heard great things about Austerlitz and was really looking forward to a little meditation on memory and a very artistically-written book.

I was not expecting a book chock-full of memory and nostalgia wherein the storyteller spends most of the time recounting his attempt to rediscover is completely forgotten past in PragueAnd there were pictures.

I wanted to enjoy Austerlitz. I did. But reading it was a chore. The writing was beautiful, the story was good, the conflict was painful and real. But I think the vivid descriptions of Prague were distracting. Often I knew exactly what Austerlitz was talking about when he described strange Czech quirks or oddities characteristic of Prague. Several times I knew where he was talking about, even when it wasn’t a “touristy” part of Prague. If I read this a year ago, when I was living in Prague, I would have adored it. I would have tried to find everywhere he mentioned. I would have gone to such-and-such street to see if there really was a certain store there. I would’ve walked around Malostranská and the islands on the Vltava that he mentioned. I would have gone to the parks he mentions frequenting.

If I’d read this book in a few years, when I’m more removed from my time in Prague, it would have been fine. I would have read it as it was meant to be read, but it would have had an added sweetness, because I also would have been looking back on Prague and meditating on things.

But reading it now, when every other day I miss Prague and regret leaving? Torture. Especially since Austerlitz is remembering a life he briefly lived and thinking about the life he would have had if he hadn’t left. I couldn’t get around myself enough to get to the point of the novel, which is a shame, because I’m sure I would have really appreciated Austerlitz if I hadn’t been too focused on the PRAGUE!!! part of it.

I think I’m going to add this to the list of books I need to revisit in five to ten years. It was very much “too soon.”

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Glass Bead Game

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