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The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

The Rings of Saturn (1995)

by W. G. Sebald

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,713384,149 (4.23)91
  1. 00
    Danube by Claudio Magris (defaults)
  2. 00
    Lights out for the territory: 9 excursions in the secret history of London by Iain Sinclair (TMrozewski)
    TMrozewski: Books about walking, history, and reflection. Similar narrative tropes.
  3. 00
    Findings by Kathleen Jamie (chrisharpe)
  4. 00
    Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (chrisharpe)
  5. 01
    Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson (michaeljohn)
    michaeljohn: Both novels—each nontraditional and singular in form—feature a narrator wandering in a desolate landscape. Both narrators also show a similar propensity for historical digression.
  6. 01
    Death in Holy Orders by P. D. James (thorold)
    thorold: You can't get much more conventional than an English murder mystery, or much more experimental than Sebald's unclassifiable prose works, but these two books do seem to have a bit more in common than their setting on the Suffolk coast. An odd mixture of gloom and playfulness, a refusal quite to reveal what's in the writer's mind...… (more)

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» See also 91 mentions

English (34)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
A complete and utter drag of a book, swollen with negativity and bleakness. ( )
  RiversideReader | May 25, 2014 |
Haunting is a term that keeps appearing in popular and critical discourse of late. This makes sense to me. We live in a time when things disappear or become irrelevant very quickly, because of the feedback loop that’s been established between technological change and an economic system that expands as a result of it. The real consequence of this is not just the emergence of the new, or what might better be called the pseudo-new, but the disappearance of a large number of things and ideas that were not that old. However, things that disappear from the physical world are not lost to our minds, if we had some experience of them. Lost things, people, places, concepts, haunt our minds. If we felt some strong emotion for them, they haunt us more powerfully, because somehow affect plants things in our brains in a way that intellect or sensory perception alone cannot.

If there ever was a writer, or a book, to illustrate the power of this kind of haunting, it is WG Sebald and it is The Rings of Saturn. Walking through one small part of Europe, but ranging far beyond it in time and space, he writes of modern Europe's ghostliness, and you begin to see it as the only possible state for a society where layers and layers of the past drift far deeper than any future it is likely to have. At the vacant center of those layers of time is the Holocaust, but one grim apocalypse after another has piled up along the way, and you sense another one, a holocaust of nature, is in the wings. And all of this is presented with that most elusive of modern qualities, a kind of lyricism that makes it charming, in the almost magical sense of that word.

If great writers either "found a tradition or abolish one," Sebald is now among our greats. He has created his own genre. I can't believe he doesn't have a school of followers, but, at the same time, I'm tremendously glad. ( )
2 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
Kirja kertoo vanhemmasta herrasta, joka lähti 'elokuussa 1992, kun koirankuu läheni loppuaan' vaeltamaan itäisen Englannin rannikkoa täyttääksen sisällään vallitsevan tyhjiön. Kirja jakautuu kymmeneen osaan, joissa jokaisessa herra pysähtyy tiettyyn paikkaan rannikolla. Jokaiseen pysähdykseen liittyy herran omia muistoja, niin paikan päältä kuin kauempaakin, joita mustavalkovalokuvat selventävät lukijalle. Kirjassa esiintyvät vieraskieliset sitaatit on koottu kirjan takaosaan omaksi osiokseen.

Unenomainen kertomus vanhasta kirjailijasta, joka palaa Englannin rannikolle tekemään vaelluksen niin kauniisiin vanhoihin lomaparatiiseihin kuin omaan menneisyyteensä. Kertomus liikkuu ajasta ja paikasta toiseen olematta silti sekava. ( )
  Suvi.Sario | Dec 19, 2013 |
Though I could not engage myself as vibrantly as I did in reading the first two Sebald novel/memoir/travelogues I did recognize its uniqueness and sophistication not found too often elsewhere. I love the way Sebald wrote and look forward to reading Austerlitz sometime in the very near future. As I am not a gifted historian nor am I knowledgeable at all of Europe geographically, the book is literally wasted on me in some respects. It is the quality of the writing that continues to amaze me and keeps my nose pressed to the ground. ( )
  MSarki | Aug 3, 2013 |
W.G. Sebald wrote strikingly odd and original books which mix fact and fiction, the sweep of history and the smallest of subjects, with a tone at once distant and intimate. The Rings of Saturn is a perfect example of this and if it’s not quite perfect, that’s only in comparison to The Emigrants - which for me is a hard book to top. The plot is supposedly centered around the author/narrator’s walking tour on the east coast of England but it’s really about anything and everything. Anything and everything, however, is, in the end, all about death and decay. The title is seen in a quote at the beginning, noting that the rings of Saturn are made up of fragments from a former destroyed moon. In his travels, the narrator recreates whole cities, buildings, industries, species, individuals and memories in his mind - describing the history and bringing the past to life, then following his subject to its inevitable downfall. While the book might have less appeal than Austerlitz or The Emigrants, as it is considerably more diffuse, it’s still another fantastic Sebald.

Sebald’s prose is wonderful as usual, somehow catching, in a few sentences or paragraphs (though his paragraphs do tend to go on), the essence of his subject. There are a couple touchstones that he returns to in the book - Thomas Browne and Borges. Browne is an excellent choice as he studied and wrote on a number of odd, diverse subjects - much like Sebald in this book - but his Urn Burial, a 1658 treatise on death rites, is especially relevant. Borges’ multiple invented worlds in Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius - and the overall metafictional concept - are also appropriate. As the narrator walks along the coast, some of the things he muses on are concretely related to the walk, others are thoughts that are only tangentially related.

Some of the varied topics include - Somerleyton, the formerly opulent country estate in Lowestoft; the history of herring fishing; George Le Strange, an odd local landowner; the WWI massacre of Serbs, Bosnians and Jews at the Jasenovac camp; Joseph Conrad and his meeting with Roger Casement, an advocate of the native people of Congo and the Irish but executed as a traitor; Edward FitzGerald’s lonely life; a former love of the memoirist Vicomte de Chateaubriand; the history of the European silk business. Despite this diversity, Sebald always makes you interested and somehow, despite the overt distance created by his narrative method, gets into the heads and thoughts of many of the characters who pass through the book. ( )
4 vote DieFledermaus | Jun 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
The Rings of Saturn, perplexing, turgid, and unreadable book that it so frequently is, is saddled with a problem it cannot resolve or even address: that of the dislodged identity.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, André Aciman (pay site) (Dec 3, 1998)

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. G. Sebaldprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hulse, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Il faut surtout pardonner a ces ames malheureuses qui ont elu de faire le pelerinage a pied, qui cotoient le rivage et regardent sans comprendre l'horreur de la lutte, la joie de vaincre ni le profond desespoir des vaincus.
Joseph Conrad
The rings of Saturn consist of ice crystals and probably meteorite particles describing circular orbits around the planet's equator. In all likelihood these are the fragments of a former moon that was too close to the planet and was destroyed by its tidal effect ( -> Roche limit).
Brockhaus Encyclopaedia
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In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0811214133, Paperback)

In August 1992, W.G. Sebald set off on a walking tour of Suffolk, one of England's least populated and most striking counties. A long project--presumably The Emigrants, his great anatomy of exile, loss, and identity--had left him spent. Initially his tour was a carefree one. Soon, however, Sebald was to happen upon "traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past," in a series of encounters so intense that a year later he found himself in a state of collapse in a Norwich hospital.

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:48 -0400)

A fictional account of a walking tour through England's East Anglia whose sights and sounds conjure up images of Britain's imperial past. They range from the slave trade to the Battle of Britain. By the author of The Emigrants.

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