Gulyás Viki – Austerlitz

“No one can explain exactly what happens within us when the doors behind which our childhood terrors lurk are flung open” (Austerlitz, 25)

 Architecture and objects are the basis of remembrance in Sebald’s novel Austerlitz and this is what made me interested especially in the process, how we remember and especially what circumstances and objects can recall old memories. The fictional protagonist in this novel confronts us with the fact that it is important for the individual to remember his past in order to find his identity. Austerlitz’s recollections appear due to different objects and these are presented to the readers by an unnamed narrator. This may be the reason why the story becomes in a sense unreliable, but believable as the individual history fits perfectly into the frame of the Holocaust.

The role of architecture was the most significant in the novel and remembering history. It is not only a general historical aspect that is shown, but Austerlitz’s own personal background is placed in the centre. In connection with this, Garloff suggests that architecture in his case represents suppression of his own past and remembrance. The perfect example for this is the train station, which represents the venue of the Kindertransports and the place which is hidden in the protagonist’s memory as he arrived there as a child. This is also an example for how architecture connects the individual and the general historical aspect. However, it was not only architecture that gains significance in remembering but also some elements which affect on human senses. These are a smell, a radio speech, and the photographs in the novel. Barzilai suggests the idea about the memories existing in the subconscious and until these are not processed one cannot live a full life.

What I also discussed in connection with remembering was identity, which requires the understanding and processing of the past. The doors behind which Austerlitz’s memories hide must be opened before he can move forward. He suppresses his past, but the outer circumstances fight the wall he had built up in order not to remember. Bauer discusses that Austerlitz’s accounts of the past is not of a historian but of an individual. However, despite the individual accounts the reader gets a general account of the children who were saved through the Kindertransports.


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