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From the cover of Austerlitz gins, and it is only after a nervous breakdown that he ventures to learn where he came from and who his parents were. He goes to Prague, where he easily locates Vera, an old woman who was his nursery maid, and who still lives next door to where he and his parents once lived. It is no surprise to .learn that Austerlitz’s mother and father were Jews who most likely perished in the camps. In relating his efforts to learn of their fates, this book, out of all Sebald’s work, enters into the most direct engagement with the Holocaustfor though it is present in all his books, it is almost never right in front of the camera. Only in Austerlitz does the accumulation of documents and photographs and stories so plainly confront its ravages. s ebald died last December 14, at the age of 57, when the car he was driving swerved into oncoming traffic. \(It has been conjectured that he suffered a heart seemed like something out of one of his books, one reason for it is that death, and often sudden death, happens over and over within. them. The Earl of Sandwich perishes when his ship goes up in flames; a pair of relatives die in a car accident in California; a pilot crashes his plane; a psychiatrist’s father dies when a boiler explodes and his body is “found in a partly poached state.” Hundreds of thousands of Croats, of Africans in the Congo, of Chinese, die at the hands of brutal regitries. Ludwig Wittgenstein is identified as “the philosopher who died of the disease of cancer in Cain-bridge in 1951.” If death is one of his primary themes, then companionship is its counterweight. His . learned narrators seek out other learned men, fellow searchers, while many of the books’ embedded tales are about pairs of companions, sharing some portion of history before, inevitably, they are separated. “It was only by following the course time prescribed that we could hasten through the spaces separating us from one another,” remarks Austerlitz shortly after meeting the narrator. That one person in his peregrinations might be accompanied, for a time, by another, seems to hold out the possibility of consolation, even as Sebald’s characters seem inconsolable in the end, doomed to wander no matter what, venturing dilapidated old resort hotel to another, dwelling always in a Europe that is finished. Muses the narrator in Vertigo: “Poor travellers, I thought, seeing myself among them. Always somewhere else.” One of the most harrowing scenes in Austerlitz occurs when Jacques Auster litz, having learned that a propaganda film had been made at the camp where his mother was interned, obtains a copy of the film and tries to find his mother in it, though he has forgotten what her face looks like. When he doesn’t see anyone who might be her, he has the film altered to play in slow motion, and finally identifies a woman he thinks is his mother, though Vera later won’t confirm it. He watches this portion over and over, the time indicator on the screen obscuring the woman’s forehead and slowly marking four seconds. It’s a tremendous moment, in which the weight of Sebald’s reflections on time and memory, and documentation and artifice, and connection and loss, are collapsed into one terribly sad image.A fake document may be the only possible one. Memory is unreliable and grief-laden, and yet it’s all we have. Without memory, Austerlitz suffers a nervous breakdown, but With it; at the end of the book, he hardly seems better off. He is more stable, perhaps, but no less hollow. Austerlitz does so much of the telling in this book, and the nameless narrator so little, that the reader is left wondering whether the narrator really serves any purpose, or is simply a vestige left over from Sebald’s previous books. If he serves any function, it would seem to be as an indicator of the departure Sebald has taken from his earlier work. In the beginning of Austerlitz, the narrator pays a visit to a Belgian fort used by the Germans as a penal camp and acknowledges his unwillingness to imagine the prisoners; just before his second set of encounters with Jacques Austerlitz, he is literally losing his. eyesight. At the end, by contrast, he sits in the same fort and reads of the atrocities that took place there. One can’t help wondering what direction Sebald might have gone in next, what other Europes he might have pulled out of his sleeve. Instead, his alter ego on the verge of disappearing, Sebald himself vanished. And yet it seems likely that he’ll be with us for some time. 1118102 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25