Books: Exile's Poignant Search for Lost Roots; Austerlitz. by W G Sebald (Hamish Hamilton, Pounds 16.99). Reviewed by Keith Brace

Article excerpt

Byline: Keith Brace

The author of this remarkable novel about the long term and long-distance effects of the Holocaust was a German academic who settled in England in 1970, and became a professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia.

He wrote a handful of highly original novels in German, which were translated into English and other languages.

Many critics - but not all - praised him as a possible future winner for the Nobel Prize, Sadly, we shall not know. Sebald was killed, aged 57, in a car crash in Norwich just before Christmas, an incident described widely as a 'tragic loss' to literature.

Not Jewish, he had obviously brooded long over the Holocaust and over the failure of his fellow-countrymen to come to terms with it as part of their history. Was it this personal disappointment with his fellow-Germans that drove him abroad? We do not know, though we may some day.

Of the four books he left behind, three are directly inspired by the Holocaust. He was obsessed not so much with the factual horrors - he disliked the Holocaust 'Industry' - but with Jewish exiles, or survivors inside Germany, whose post-1945 lives had been ineradicably saddened by the loss of their pre-war European-Jewish culture.

Jacques Austerlitz, aged five, is sent from Prague in 1939 on the last 'kindertransport' of Jewish children to Britain. …