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The Rings of Saturn

W. G. Sebald, Michael Hulse (Translated by)


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (11/1/2002)


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."

Praise For The Rings of Saturn

The book is like a dream you want to last translation from the German seems little short of miraculous. The book is so natural and accessible, and yet so odd, that one is left enchanted and also curious about the author, who presents such a prodigious mass of material in such a modest and engaging way. As you read along, and as you become an active participant in the unfolding of this book.
— Roberta Silman

This German who has lived in England for over thirty years is one of the most mysteriously sublime of contemporary writers. . . . And here, in The Rings of Saturn, is a book more uncanny than The Emigrants.

— James Woods

Sebald has been writing what I give the unpromising name the documentary novel, in which subject matter becomes character. A future critic with considerably more time and space will find Anglia. Seen from above, his footsteps will describe, like the good detective he is, the outline of a body that has many times been ferried away, the body we call civilization. From these fading contours left upon the land, we Lilliputians are left to ponder the shape of what came yesterday, or centuries before. to such puzzling terrain, is indispensable.

Sebald depicts a landscape that is fascinating and disturbing, a world whose minute differences from the actual is a bit of virtuoso reality. If I might be so bold as to sum up his work in one sentence, it is this: Time always wins, but offers as a consolation and booby prize, Memory. Thus the futility of existence is partially erased by both the grandeur and inability of our imaginations. We can dream. And somewhere in those dreams, reality is defeated.

He is the most hypnotic and exhilarating author. Lyrical and genius. No one like him.
— Maira Kalman

Like his much praised novel The Emigrants, this new work by Sebald is steeped in melancholy.... Erudition of this sort is too rare in American fiction, but the hypnotic appeal here has as much to do with Sebalds deft portrait of the subtle, complex relations between individual experience and the rich human firmament that gives it meaning as it does with his remarkable mastery of history.

As he did so brilliantly in The Emigrants, German author Sebald once again blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction in traveling narrator is making his way through the county of Suffolk, England, and from there back in time.

[A]lways clear and present—always ringing true, not necessarily comfortable but not easily forgotten.
— Marilis Hornidge

[A]n extraordinary palimpsest of nature, human, and literary history.
— Merle Rubin

One of 'Five Best [of the year].' Historical fiction of the first rank.
— Rebecca Stott

It is full of wonderfully rendered scenes…. Full of insight and beauty…. Tragic, yet beautiful.
— Trevor Berrett

New Directions, 9780811214131, 296pp.

Publication Date: April 17, 1999

About the Author

W. G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and died in 2001. He is the author of The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, Austerlitz, After Nature, On the Natural History of Destruction, Unrecounted and Campo Santo.

Michael Hulse is an English translator, critic, and poet. Hulse has translated more than sixty books from the German.