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The Rings of Saturn

A book by W. G. Sebald

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Another intoxicating, idiosycratic masterpiece

  • Oct 14, 1998
Having read "The Emigrants" and being amazed that I had not heard about this author, so fine and unique was his first "translated" book, I grabbed the first volume of "The Rings of Saturn" I could find. And not only does this latest lyrically sad yet beautiful little book equal its predessor, it surpasses. The technique of including "snapshots" in this quasihistorical meandering enhances the illusion that the novel is reportage. There are sufficient facts and places to make the sojourn credible; the joy of the work is unwinding all the cosmic threads that so accurately detail the spirit of our times. I can only hope that this poet continues to grace our literature with like memorable time pieces. One caution: this is not a book to leave by th ebedside for multiple nights' readings. Be prepared to give him your all until the final page - and in one sitting!

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Grady Harp ()
Ranked #96
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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About this book


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--presumablyThe 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 Michael 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 thirty-three 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 ...

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ISBN-10: 0811213781
ISBN-13: 978-0811213783
Author: W. G. Sebald
Publisher: New Directions

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