The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

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Shortlisted for the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Award in Fiction: "Stunning and strange . . . Sebald has done what every writer dreams of doing. . . . The book is like a dream you want to last forever. . . . It glows with the radiance and resilience of the human spirit."—Roberta Silman, The New York Times Book Review

"Ostensibly a record of a journey on foot through coastal East Anglia," as Robert McCrum in the London Observer noted, The Rings of Saturn "is also a brilliantly allusive study of England's imperial past and the nature of decline and fall, of loss and decay. . . . The Rings of Saturn is exhilaratingly, you might say hypnotically, readable. . . . It is hard to imagine a stranger or more compelling work." The Rings of Saturn - with its curious archive of photographs - chronicles a tour across epochs as well as countryside. On his way, the narrator meets lonely eccentrics inhabiting tumble-down mansions and links them to Rembrandt's "Anatomy Lesson," the natural history of the herring, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, the travels of Sir Thomas Browne's skull, and the massive bombings of WWII. Cataloging change, oblivion, and memories, he connects sugar fortunes, Joseph Conrad, and the horrors of colonizing the Belgian Congo. The narrator finds threads which run from an abandoned bridge over the River Blyth to the terrible dowager Empress Tzu Hsi and the silk industry in Norwich. "Sebald," as The New Yorker stated, "weaves his tale together with a complexity and historical sweep that easily encompasses both truth and fiction." The Emigrants (hailed by Susan Sontag as an "astonishing masterpiece-perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read") was "one of the great books of the last few years," as Michael Ondaatje noted: "and now The Rings of Saturn is a similar and as strange a triumph."

About W. G. Sebald

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W. G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, Germany, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland, and Manchester. He taught at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, for thirty years, becoming professor of European literature in 1987, and from 1989 to 1994 was the first director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. His previously translated books-The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Vertigo, and Austerlitz-have won a number of international awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Berlin Literature Prize, and the Literatur Nord Prize. He died in December 2001.From the Hardcover edition.
Published April 17, 1999 by New Directions. 308 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Travel, Literature & Fiction, History, Science & Math. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Rings of Saturn

Kirkus Reviews

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Turning inland, the trail leads to writer Michael Hamburger (a number of writers, most long dead, figure in the journey), whose story of flight from the Nazis in 1933 resonates with the narrator’s own more recent history, and on to a disorienting sandstorm among the remains of a forest uprooted b...

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Publishers Weekly

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It comes as no surprise that the ""parlous loftiness"" of the 17th-century metaphysician Thomas Browne holds particular fascination for our narrator who, like Browne, writes ""out of the fullness of his erudition,"" pursuing his train of thought in sentences ""that resemble processions or a funer...

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It’s always tempting to compare Sebald to Borges—among other narrative oddities, The Rings of Saturn contains a detailed synopsis of Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”—but where Borges’ fiction tended to use the apparatus and affectations of scholarship in service of a kind of structural irony,...

Feb 05 2014 | Read Full Review of The Rings of Saturn

London Review of Books

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The reader is left to ponder the image as one Sebald has never forgotten, as one of the few memories so unbearable that it might occasion a man not to speak for decades, and the image is all the more evocative because its relationship to the text is left oblique.

Dec 30 1998 | Read Full Review of The Rings of Saturn

Boston Review

He visits a man who has devoted years of his life to constructing a perfect replica of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (an episode that, like much else in the book, echoes The Emigrants, where the painter Max Ferber describes a childhood meeting with a Jewish itinerant who went from gh...

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The book is peopled with exiles – Conrad, Chateaubriand, Michael Hamburger – and the self-exiled – Swinburne, Edward FitzGerald, various reclusive eccentrics in country houses.

Aug 17 2011 | Read Full Review of The Rings of Saturn

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