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Rings of Saturn Paperback – 14 Apr 1999

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Paperback, 14 Apr 1999

Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing; Later printing edition (14 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811214133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811214131
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,990,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

W. G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, in the Bavarian Alps, in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland and Manchester. In 1966 he took up a position as an assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester, settling permanently in England in 1970. He was professor of Modern German Literature at the University of East Anglia, and is the author of The Emigrants which won the Berlin Literature Prize, the Literatur Nord Prize and the Johannes Bobrowski Medal, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. W. G. Sebald died in 2001.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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 Mi chael 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 33 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 colourful 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 humour. At one point, paralysed 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. - -Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Sebald is the Joyce of the 21st Century" The Times "Most writers, even good ones, write of what can be written... The very greatest write of what cannot be written... I think of Akhmatova and Primo Levi, for example, and of W. G. Sebald" New York Times "The finest book of long-distance mental travel that I've ever read" Jonathan Raban, Times Literary Supplement "A desperate intensity of feeling is thrillingly counterpoised by the workings of a wonderfully learned and rigorous mind" Sunday Times "A great, strange and moving work" James Wood, Guardian

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 April 2003
Format: Paperback
Ostensibly an account of a walk but in reality a dark journey to the bottom of the soul. Sebald's knowledge of local, European and world history and literature is unsurpassed. He leads us through a landscape of dilapidated coastal resorts, decadent country houses, disused seaports, closed branch lines and towns that have literally fallen into the sea. He uses these surroundings as the catalyst for a broad, fascinating discourse on the loss brought about by man's destructive nature and the ineluctable passing of time. He brings his acute, perceptive intelligence to bear on subjects as diverse as the European silk industry, the books of Thomas Browne, Chateaubriand, Rembrandt, Dutch Elm Disease, the Great Storm of 1987, the Rape of the Summer Palace in Peking and his dim recollections of childhood in Nazi Germany and the propaganda films he was shown at school.
In each case, our past sins come back to haunt us in this elegiac, cerebral odyssey. Sebald's sense of collective guilt is so acute, we can only hope that in tribute to this genius's tragic passing, the world mourns him with equal sensitivity and intensity, to that with which he lamented the decline of his adoptive East Anglia and the punishing vicissitudes of nature.
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88 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Mike Phillips on 2 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
This was the first sebald book I purchased. It is like nothing I have read before or since. The fact that it has no story as such is immaterial to enjoyment of the often dream like qualities of this book. There is a narrative thread in the form of a journey through East Anglia but this is broken by tangental episodes and characters that drift in often seemingly from out of nowhere. This mixture of abstraction and convention is held together by an elegiac low key prose style which I find completely beguiling. Sebald has a way of communicating facts and historical episodes that make them seem fresh although the subject matter is often disturbing. The fact that as a book it is difficult to pin down in terms of style and type only enhances the compelling, enigmatic and ultimately uplifting qualities of this book. It is one of the few books I constantly return to especially after reading a highly rated 'bestseller' (which invariably doesn't come close in terms of written quality or content).
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Secret Spi on 28 May 2008
Format: Paperback
I was given this book in German by a friend who I think had over-estimated my proficiency in that language. I made several failed attempts to penetrate the first chapter before I gave up and ordered "the Rings of Saturn" in English from amazon. I'm glad I did.

I still found the first chapter difficult but after a while, I switched into Sebald's train of thought and was spellbound for the rest of the book. Wandering around the largely desolate, decaying and deserted Suffolk coastline becomes a metaphor for a stream of consciousness, a meandering through the mind. Sights and places spark off connections to stories about a number of historical persons and events, which all become inter-connected in the literary web that is "The Rings of Saturn".

There are recurring themes here of the nature of time, transience and permanence, death and birth. In spite of the philosophical and learned nature of the writing, this book is never dry or dull. In reading it, I learned a lot, I thought a lot and I felt a lot. I can recommend this to anyone who yearns for writing and thought of quality away from the mainstream.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Andy Miller on 12 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
The back cover of this book captures beautifully for me the strange, melancholy and yet uplifting nature of this original and delicate text:

`A walking tour through the haunted landscape of the past, in the company of the exiled and departed'

` .... a book unlike any other in contemporary literature, an intricately patterned and endlessly thought-provoking meditation on the transience of all things human'.

WG Sebald does indeed describe a walk that he undertook along the coast of Suffolk over a number of days in 1992 but from the very first page it becomes clear that this will be no ordinary travelogue. The book opens with the author describing how, a year after his walk, he was `taken into hospital in Norwich in a state of almost total immobility'. Being able to see only a small rectangle of sky from the window of his eight floor room, he becomes `overwhelmed by the feeling that the Suffolk expanses I had walked the previous summer had now shrunk once and for all to a single, blind, insensate spot'.

And so begins a rich and meandering set of accounts of all manner of topics, some provoked by what he has seen and others by associations with places that he is aware of by virtue of his immensely broad and scholarly reading. One passage even consists of a memory of an eccentric household with whom he took lodgings in Ireland years before and is inspired by a dream he has one night during his walk. Sebald wears his learning lightly and his tales and accounts of topics completely alien to me, such as the history of silkworm farming from the ancient Chinese to the twentieth century Nazis, and the life and lost love of the French writer Chateaubriand, are told so engagingly and seemingly from such a fresh perspective, that I was drawn fully into them.
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