13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
One of a kind,
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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.