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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tristram Shandy for the Twentieth Century
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...
Published on 15 April 2003

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting meandering tale
Donald has a very busy mind. Would make an interesting dinner guest,he would.probably bring a bottle of Chinese silk wine with a story behind it
Published 8 months ago by Smudger


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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tristram Shandy for the Twentieth Century, 15 April 2003
By A Customer
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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86 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Out of Nowhere, 2 Jan 2004
By 
This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy meanderings, 28 May 2008
This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful - companionship and enrichment for life's solitary journeys, 12 Jun 2009
By 
Andy Miller (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (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. There is so much to learn from this book without ever once the reader, or at least this reader, feeling lumbered with a textbook.

But there is potentially more to this enchanting book. As in Austerlitz, the only other book by Sebald that I have so far read, there are a number of grainy black and white photographs, maps and snippets of archival documents. In Austerlitz these were used to support a work of fiction, to confuse and stimulate the curiosity of the reader. Was the author being serious, playful or somehow both at the same time? So too, in this book, there are hints that all may not be what it seems, that there may be invention, embroidery and tall tale telling but corralled, as in Austerlitz, into serving a deeply humanitarian endeavour.

As a completely original and unconventional text, full of rumination on the human condition, sweeping across centuries and continents whilst also rooted in a landscape often painted as featureless and bleak, this is a wonderful book and one to return to for companionship and enrichment during life's solitary journeys.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars strange news from another star, 15 Oct 2003
By 
Tmo Wilkinson "tom_will" (Oxford) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (Paperback)
'Rings of Saturn' is Sebald's greatest work. It has a finesse of description, and an ethereal prose style, that would be hampered by a strong narrative. In fact, Sebald is not terribly good at plot, as I believe 'Austerlitz' demonstrates. In 'Rings' the lives of the lonely and vanishing characters seem to drift in and out of vision, like figures in a misty landscape, without the artist trying to grasp them.
Something like attending a seance to which only the ghosts of obscure historical personages are summoned, 'Rings' is a beautifully melancholy read.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Walk into a magical Journey, 10 Jan 2004
This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (Paperback)
This is a wonderful book, ostensibly a chronical of a walk along the suffolk coast from Lowestoft to Orfordness; Sebold weaves into this pedestrian tale a compendium of remarkable, human stories and tales from around the world. A life affirming book that reminds us how we each have the whole world within us.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mind Broadens Travel, 22 April 2011
By 
A J Liddell (Gloucestershire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (Paperback)
I'm writing this half-way through reading The Rings of Saturn, having looked at other readers' reviews in order to reassure myself that 'it isn't just me' who finds this a strange, but wonderful book.

I came on it after a chance purchase of 'Bicycle Diaries' by David Byrne (yes, he of Talking Heads et al), which I also greatly enjoyed. Byrne references and acknowledges The Rings of Saturn in the forword to his work, which it resembles to no small extent, particularly the travel-related format and the liberal inclusion of sometimes ambiguous, sometimes obscure, black and white photographs. In both books, one suspects the author exploits the limts of the printing process to make the reader work that bit harder to interpret what he or she sees.

I agree with those reviewers who compare this book to Proust and de Botton, but I'm surprised that (unless I've skimmed over it), no-one has mentioned the occasional flash of gentle humour that shines through. OK, it's not so laugh-out-loud funny as Bill Bryson or Michael Palin, but now and then I reckon Sebald throws in the occasional spoof 'fact' with his tongue in his cheek and a twinkle in his eye, just to test the limits of our credence and to make sure we're paying attention. Spotting these is one of the pleasures of reading the book. A map would have been nice, though.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind, 10 Oct 2009
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (Paperback)
I really don't know where to begin in praising this book, it's unlike anything I've read before and somehow I feel that (apart from other novels by Sebald) it's very unlikely that I'll ever read anything else that even remotely resembles 'The Rings of Saturn'. His is a truly unique voice, which I find hard to describe or categorize (let alone compare to other novelists), but one thing is for certain: 'The Rings of Saturn' left me thunderstruck (and very depressed too, more about that later).

In 'The Rings of Saturn' Sebald relives a walking tour he made in the county of Suffolk in August 1992 but, though he describes the route he took and the villages he visited, that is really just an excuse for his mental journey during that same tour. Wherever he goes, even in that largely uninhabited area, Sebald finds himself 'confronted with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past'. His thoughts and feelings meander in the most unpredictable ways, and he sees (or finds) connections with other events, often indeed 'reaching far back into the past', in the most bizarre ways. And happy thoughts they are not I can assure you. Whatever Sebald stumbles across on his journey, ultimately (and in most cases pretty soon) turns out to be evidence of one of two things: either the endless cruelty man is capable of towards his fellow human beings, or the futility of all human endeavours. With a sheer endless catalogue of examples of both - ranging from the now ruined country houses of former industrial tycoons to the tyranny of the Chines dowager empress Tz'u-hsi - Sebald drives his point home, and I found myself, as never before by any other book, torn between an insatiable hunger to read on and the uncomfortable certainty that the more I read the more depressed I became (admittedly, I read this book in a not so happy period of my life, but still).

Is it all true what Sebald writes about these historical events? Are the people he meets and describes real people or products of his imagination? Frankly, I didn't check so I don't really know, but I do know that he makes it all sound very convincingly 'real'. Perhaps it isn't all 'true' (being a Belgian myself, I can assure you that - contrary to what Sebald claims - the Belgian population does not have a 'strikingly stunted growth', least of all due to the ruthless exploitation of the Congo colony), but perhaps that is not the issue either.

All in all, this book had a very powerful impact on me (which was certainly heightened by the bleak pictures dispersed throughout the text - snapshots taken by Sebald himself? I presume so) but, as I said before, it did instill in me a very pessimistic view on mankind which lasted well beyond the time I finished the book. So if I recommend it (which I do, and very much so!) I feel duty-bound to warn you about that as well. One thing I can guarantee you: it'll be unlike anything you've read so far.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts based around a coastal walk in East Anglia., 16 Oct 2001
By A Customer
Nominally a walk round the coast of East Anglia, but really a series of loose, mainly literary connections: those with a German slant being more interesting because less familiar with most readers in the UK. This book reminds me of Richard Holmes' FOOTSTEPS; one of the earliest literary biographies/travel books, setting the literary scene in the landscape.
Having been to Regensburg and Den Haag recently, I found the connections made fascinating. I went on to read any other Sebald books translated into English in pbk and found them published in the same style (big spaced out print, funny black and white photos accompanying the text for authenticity) leaving the same confusion: is this really fiction or a kind of autobiography? is this superficial entertainment or a subtle weaving of textual references (some of the other work reminded me of Nabokov at his best). Quintessentially English, yet peculiarly European.
A great work of Euro literature and (like all his works) a compelling read and not as melancholy as some of his other work.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey indeed, 21 April 2010
By 
Lupo (Winchester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rings Of Saturn (Paperback)
Opening a book by Sebald is letting the author take you by the hand and take you on a journey. It's best not to have any preconception of what the book or story is about, or where the journey will lead. A kind of trust, or giving-over of oneself, is perhaps the best frame of mind.

There are many themes in this hypnotic text, perhaps the most important being Decay: an important trading port swallowed by the sea, landscapes turned to desert by storms or misguided agriculture, illustrious families and individuals brought to ruin. These individuals: characters alienated from society, many from birth, by politics or class or the effect of a physical or psychological deformity. The alienation then manifests in a basic unfitness to participate in 'normal' human pursuits. "It seems to me sometimes that we never got used to being on this earth and life is just one great, ongoing, incomprehensible blunder." These people "unfitted for general society" pursue strange manias, but against the background of the ephemeron of 'sensible' human endeavour in the long perspective of history they are strangely comforting and inspiring.
"The Rings" lingers in one's mind, and one could do worse than to follow up the many references to great poetry and other arts which are mentioned as lying along the roads and halting points in this landscape of the mind.
So, far from depressing, the book ultimately left me with a sense of calm and wonder and excitement about all this unexplored beauty.
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The Rings Of Saturn
The Rings Of Saturn by W G Sebald (Paperback - 7 Nov 2002)
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