The Rings of Saturn is his record of these travels, a phantasmagoria of fragments and memories, fraught with dizzying knowledge and desperation and shadowed by mortality. As in The Emigrants, past and present intermingle: the living come to seem like supernatural apparitions while the dead are vividly present. Exemplary sufferers such as Joseph Conrad and Roger Casement people the author's solitude along with various eccentrics and even an occasional friend. Indeed, one of the most moving chapters concerns his fellow German exile--the writer Michael Hamburger.
"How is it that one perceives oneself in another human being, or, if not oneself, then one's own precursor?" Sebald asks. "The fact that I first passed through British customs thirty-three years after Michael, that I am now thinking of giving up teaching as he did, that I am bent over my writing in Norfolk and he in Suffolk, that we both are distrustful of our work and both suffer from an allergy to alcohol--none of these things are particularly strange. But why it was that on my first visit to Michael's house I instantly felt as if I lived or had once lived there, in every respect precisely as he does, I cannot explain. All I know is that I stood spellbound in his high-ceilinged studio room with its north-facing windows in front of the heavy mahogany bureau at which Michael said he no longer worked because the room was so cold, even in midsummer..."
Sebald seems most struck by those who lived or live quietly in adversity, "the shadow of annihilation" always hanging over them. The appropriately surnamed George Wyndham Le Strange, for example, remained on his vast property in increasing isolation, his life turning into a series of colorful anecdotes. He was "reputed to have been surrounded, in later years, by all manner of feathered creatures: by guinea fowl, pheasants, pigeons and quail, and various kinds of garden and song birds, strutting about him on the floor or flying around in the air. Some said that one summer Le Strange dug a cave in his garden and sat in it day and night like St. Jerome in the desert."
In Sebald's eyes, even the everyday comes to seem extraterrestrial--a vision intensified in Michael Hulse's beautiful rendition. His complex, allusive sentences are encased in several-pages-long paragraphs--style and subject making for painful, exquisite reading. Though most often hypersensitive to human (and animal) suffering and making few concessions to obligatory cheeriness, Sebald is not without humor. At one point, paralyzed by the presence of the past, he admits: "I bought a carton of chips at McDonald's, where I felt like a criminal wanted worldwide as I stood at the brightly lit counter, and ate them as I walked back to my hotel." The Rings of Saturn is a challenging nocturne, and the second of Sebald's four books to appear in English. The excellent news is that his novel Vertigo is already slated for translation. --Kerry Fried
beautifully writing on many different subjects suggested by the country he is passing through.Published 14 days ago by elizabeth f. potter
This really is a unique book, structured around a walk around East Anglia in the mid-1990s, though nothing is as it seems. Read morePublished 21 days ago by John Abbott
Very entertaining read. A long walk through interesting places which inspire diversionary narratives I enjoyed this book.Published 1 month ago by A. E. Davidson
The first thing I tell people about this book is not what it is ostensibly "about" – because I can hardly do justice to Sebald's intricate and enthralling web of dense,... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Maxwell K.
This book works on several levels. As a brief history of Balkan turmoil, as a testament to the will to survive atrocity, as a reminder that America is still, at least occasionally,... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Patrick Patterson
This is supposed to be his "classic," but I want to read all his other books now, and I hope that they will truly be as wonderful as this one.Published 3 months ago by Carol Elkins
Summary: This is a modern-day first-person account of the author’s solitary walk along the coast of England. However, it is only a travel narrative in small part. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Lazarus
What a journey, this book. It is indescribable except to say that the beauty of the language, the force of its imagery, leave one at peace made possible only when exposed to great... Read morePublished 3 months ago by DS
This is not so much a review as a confession. I simply could not dig my way into this work. It felt confusing and wandering. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Wing