The Rings of Saturn
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The Rings of Saturn

4.3 of 5 stars 4.30  ·  rating details  ·  4,163 ratings  ·  443 reviews
The Rings of Saturn chronicles a tour across epochs as well as the East Anglian countryside. On his way, the narrator meets lonely eccentrics inhabiting tumble-down mansions, and links them to the natural history of the herring, and a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Paperback, 296 pages
Published April 17th 1999 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (first published 1995)
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The Rings of Saturn by W.G. SebaldLabyrinths by Jorge Luis BorgesA Heart So White by Javier MaríasThe Hour of the Star by Clarice LispectorJourney to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Best New Directions Books
1st out of 95 books — 80 voters
The Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaThe Trial by Franz KafkaAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria RemarqueFaust by Johann Wolfgang von GoethePerfume by Patrick Süskind
Best German/Austrian Literature
49th out of 496 books — 469 voters

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Aug 05, 2013 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: misc

In the autumn of 1993 I undertook a walking tour of Sherwood high street in the folorn hope of throwing off a sense of crepuscular ennui which enfolds me whenever I complete one of my walking tours. As I made my way up drab Haydn Road, an epitome of suburban English squalidness, I observed a man walking a dog which could only be a Labrador. The Portuguese explorer-merchants Joao Fernandes and Pero de Bercelos named the land and the canine variety unknowingly in 1500 in a cartographical inexactit...more
Can't wait:

It was difficult to imagine the holidaymakers and commercial travelers who would want to stay there, nor was it easy…to recognize the Albion as the “hotel on the promenade of a superior description” recommended in my guidebook, which had been published shortly after the turn of the century.

Of course this connoisseur of desuetude, this dreamer on oblivion, tramps about with a lapsed guide book. The better to savor what’s disappeared from the land...more
This is a strange and melancholy journey, not really through Suffolk but through Sebald's mind. With poetry and pathos he narrates a wandering, but not random, series of extended meditations inspired by history and memory, local geography and phenomena, people he meets or sees on television, books he's read. We begin and end with Thomas Browne, moving in between from translation to experimentation, from Roger Casement to Dutch Elm Disease to the Troubles. We also return at times to the hospital...more
This is the third travel memoir I've read* where an author spends time walking around the British Isles and yet, during their journey, seems to spend the majority of their time thinking about somethings, any-things, that are quite different.

When this thought first occurred to me, it made me laugh and think that perhaps Albion should be offended. But, given the books in question and what these literary rambles inspired, I think there really is no choice but to be flattered.

In the early 1990s, Seb...more
Readers of Sebald's works describe complicated feelings about his writing. Others are struck by his countenance: sad, deep in thought, melancholic. But, for me, Sebald was the writer I had been looking for for decades...

I have been questioning the evil of the Holocaust (my lover is Jewish) since visiting the NYPL and reading files online. How could a civilized people create such unspeakable horror on fellow citizens because of their ethnicity? And why did I not find remorse by the perpetrators?

Mar 17, 2009 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: readers who like meditation & significant stimulation
Recommended to John by: Alexander Hemon
The epigraph informs us that the "rings" of the 6th planet are in fact nothing but rubble. Worse, I can't think of any recent work of imagination -- Sebald published during the 1990s -- that so exposes the wreckage that inevitably results from our strutting & fretting hour on the stage. RINGS is all about wreckage, w/ one quiet, unsettling meditation on destroyed worlds after another, linked by nothing more than a vacation walkabout one August in the Sussex countryside. It's an odyssey w/out...more
Update February 22, 2011:

I just re-read this book a few days ago and reading back on my initial impression of Sebald is both humbling and embarrassing. I kind of missed the point, didn't I?

I still see what I was saying back then, and think you have to either be in a certain mood or be willing to be enchanted into that mood in order to fall in love with this work. Nevertheless, I am glad I didn't give up on him and moved on to read his entire works. This book, on second read, is the least memoir-...more
My second outing with Sebald turns out to be a fairly similar experience to the first. His writing is hallucinatory, meditative, ruminative, pondering; it is hard to read without your own mind wandering off into fields of its own, and then returning to the page to find that you're in a new place, new time, and not quite sure how you got there. It feels like those days of fever when you listen to the radio and drift off in between times, re-awakening to find that the documentary you were listenin...more
A travelogue of East Anglia interspersed with random ‘musi-cons’: digressions covering ostensibly unrelated historical events but with an underlying theme of the capacity for human destruction and ‘laying to waste’.

I was really, really, going for it, until a certain moment, my ‘event horizon’, and then, I wasn’t. The book didn’t take I turn: I did. Perhaps unfair prejudice and resentment overwhelmed me and I went over to the ‘dark side’.

I will confess to being an ignoramus: I didn’t know the fir...more
I read this twice, seperated by a most important decade. The second reading was in the early days of our new house. Terms like haunted are often misused, but there is a sense that Sebald elevates the ghosts of maladaption and legacy to a momentary viewing, however stilted.

New homes and a safely surveyed life often prove to be mixed wagers. Sebald grounds one in the quotidian. Even as he unnerves with a passing query, a nagging thorn of dissociation. Commerce and legacy are tainted. The inherito...more
Sebald, who is and isn't the narrator of the memory trek called The Rings of Saturn, early on describes the contemplative methodology of the seventeenth century (meta)physician Sir Thomas Browne: he therefore sought to look upon earthly existence, from the things that were closest to him to the spheres of the universe, with the eye of an outsider, one might even say of the creator. This detached and potentially demiurgical approach serves Sebald admirably as he recalls a previous perambulation t...more
Indeed, in historiography, the indisputable advantage of a fictitious past have become apparent: secondary or tertiary worlds as imagined in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manifest themselves from the ideas and representations of the world onto the physical world itself. In the final analysis, says a voice in The Rings of Saturn, our entire work is based upon nothing but ideas. Yet these ideas – or representations – are flimsy as film, and they change over the years and which time and time again cau...more
a feeling of repetition ... a peculiar numbness like a grammophone repeatedly playing the same sequence of notes ... Repeatedly I felt as if I were lying in a traumatic fever in some kind of field hospital ...

Sebald's words, not mine. But apt.

Perhaps it's Summer. The tomatoes are ripening but stinkbugs and a chipmunk are fighting me for the harvest. The local nine have teased me after 18 losing seasons but they can not beat the Brewers ever and sometimes not even the Cubs. A new iphone beckons w...more
Ambling along England’s eastern Suffolk coast, Sebald wanders from inward reverie through outward reverie exploring any and all directions connected to the landscape traversed. I can honestly say I have never encountered a book quite like this. Part travelogue, part historical meditation, part (non?-) fictional memoir. The carefully researched historical vignettes interweave with eloquent reflections of a personal nature. Dreams, war, history and disappointment all bleed into each other, paintin...more

Limpid, lucid, uncategorizable, learned, lovely, reverent, informative, dreamlike, dark, deep, addictive, poetic, Meaningful, unique, seductive....

Here's a part of a small paper I did on this book for a class a couple of years ago. I've been meaning to add this, since I really loved and was provoked by this book...


I intended to write this essay about Waiting For The Barbarians and how the Magistrate’s story is tied in to the desire to become an authentic self. The Magistrate, after a life...more
Adam Floridia
Robert Silman of The New York Times writes “Stunning and strange…like a dream you want to last forever.” Change “dream” to “nightmare,” and I think he’s got a point. The book is teeming with “scenes of destruction, mutilation, desecration, starvation, conflagration, and freezing cold” (94). Despite this, I would still describe it as a pleasant read.

It’s probably best suited for those interested in history, trivia, or just beautiful writing. While ostensibly recounting a long country stroll taken...more
Jim Coughenour
Is there any book more melancholy, more gently intelligent, than Sebald's Rings of Saturn? After watching Grant Gee's very fine documentary Patience (After Sebald), I was ready to read Sebald's book again. I first read it in 1998; on reading it again I found I remembered almost nothing except the mood of it – but maybe that's not surprising, as the book is, in a sense, nothing but mood, recounting Sebald's walking trip through Suffolk on the crumbling east coast of England, which turns out to be...more
The first W.G. Sebald book I heard of was The Rings of Saturn (tr. by Michael Hulse). Something in the tone of the recommendation and the title of the book made me start to imagine how the book would feel and how I would feel about it — you’ve been there too. I tried to avoid such imaginings, but with all of its positive criticism it was hard to hold back my expectations.

When I began reading The Rings of Saturn I knew next to nothing about the book. Sure, I knew that it was structured as as wal...more
Josh Bratton
Probably his most known work, Sebald’s ‘The Ring of Saturn’ shows a mixture of scholarly writing and descriptive photography with a lexicon of words that may seem a bit verbose or may be described as ‘loquacious in nature’ and is not for the most casual reader; it takes an amount of focus on what is being said and how our nameless narrator’s portrayal of history of past and present in reference to its corresponding areas as he travels by foot mostly (except on certain occasions by truck or bus),...more
Tanuj Solanki

Everything wanted him to stand.
Everything was the lethargy he never thought of but knew,
And maybe it made him bolder, enigmatic,
And of a free forehead, a difficult state made possible;
He was a multitude standing erect over an amorphous thing,
As if to exit a time: a stable monument, machine-made.
Nothing below him stirred. He lunged. The fallow fields were smooth like silk,
And faraway, and soft, and silent.
He didn’t feel and there was too much clarity, a whole age had dulled, grey like a st...more
Stewart Home
"By the time the desert arrived, Alan was talking about The Rings Of Saturn by W. G. Sebald. My companion considered this to be one of the worst travel books he had ever read. Sebald was a Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. This overpaid hack had taken the train from his academic base in Norfolk to the Suffolk border and then written an account of his travels south along the coast. Among other things, Sebald claimed to have difficulty imagining tha...more
I'm going to review this book by comparing it to Vertigo.

I found The Rings of Saturn an easier read, because the structure was clearer and many of the places, events and people that were referred to, I had already heard of. I never realized that Lowestoft had such an interesting history!

I also made sure that I checked out references I didn't know about as I went along. This kept me on track well.

Sebald is a fabulous writer, and I think the quality of his writing really came over in this book....more
Perhaps the closest approximation in prose I’ve ever come across of how an engaged but disenchanted mind assimilates their cultural heritage with the ineffable eccentricities of individual existence, the ruins and remainders of the past, and the eclipse of all settled meaning.
Dhanaraj Rajan
Reason for Five Stars

This book gave me a different literary experience. I began the book expecting something and ended up with many surprises. I began the book thinking of it as a piece of literature related to travel. But the book had much in store for me - history, biography, literary criticism, art criticism, science, photography, natural history, etc.

Later I found that this book is normally defined as: Combining the details of a walking tour with meditations prompted by places and people enc...more
Jeremy Allan
After just commenting elsewhere on Goodreads about genre, I come to this book, which I finished a month ago, but have been pondering ever since, putting off my review. This is not historical fiction, though history courses through it like a system of rivers, and it is also not history. This book is fiction, pure though not in the sense that it lacks any factual statement, rather it is pure fiction in how it is the complete fabrication of a new world, perhaps even more fictitious on account of it...more
Moody as fuck. If you can deal without any kind of plot structure, than "The Rings of Saturn" is for you. And I'm definitely in this camp. There's a line in Calvino's "Invisible Cities" where Kubla Khan talks about how when Marco Polo describes cities, he talks about the thoughts of a man seated on a porch enjoying the breeze. And that's pretty much what Sebald is all about. The narrator is a highly enjoyable telescope, like Calvino's Mr. Palomar, discussing the history of the landscape, framing...more
M. Sarki
Though I could not engage myself as vibrantly as I did in reading the first two Sebald novel/memoir/travelogues I did recognize its uniqueness and sophistication not found too often elsewhere. I love the way Sebald wrote and look forward to reading Austerlitz sometime in the very near future. As I am not a gifted historian nor am I knowledgeable at all of Europe geographically, the book is literally wasted on me in some respects. It is the quality of the writing that continues to amaze me and ke...more
Once I began this book I could not stay away from it. One of those books you just keep returning to with an urge for the comfort of reading it. Odd, because this is a plotless account of a vacation, but I love going on vacation with this man. In this book we are wandering around the shore of Eastern England - and that I also appreciate, making a seemingly mundane locale beguiling.

The narrator of this book is deeply fascinated by history, particularly faintly remembered recent history, and also t...more
Uma digressão a pé pelas costas de East Anglia, dá a Sebald, ou ao seu narrador, os pretextos para a sua escrita reflexiva, perceptiva e melancólica. O mundo neste falso travelogue, não é bem o mundo tal como o conhecemos, por isso a verdade dos factos tanto parece história como ficção. Se há temas recorrentes ao longo dos dez capítulos do livro, para além de Thomas Browne e dos bichos da seda, é a presença do mal, do mal humano, da capacidade destruidora do homem. É engraçado, porque há um cert...more
A few years back, one of of my housemates at the time had a subscription to The New York Review of Books, multiple issues of which could usually be found strewn across the coffee table. I ended up reading most of them cover to cover, and was often amused by the fact that I could get so much out of articles centered on books I would likely never get around to reading. Similarly, I like to read about films, and at times I feel I've gained something of value from an article or a blog entry even if...more
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All About Books: The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (Dhanaraj & Jenny) 72 43 Jul 05, 2014 11:53AM  
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Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald was a German writer and academic. His works are largely concerned with the themes of memory and loss of memory (both personal and collective) and decay (of civilizations, traditions or physical objects). They are, in particular, attempts to reconcile himself with, and deal in literary terms with, the trauma of the Second World War and its effect on the German peopl...more
More about W.G. Sebald...
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“But the fact is that writing is the only way in which I am able to cope with the memories which overwhelm me so frequently and so unexpectedly. If they remained locked away, they would become heavier and heavier as time went on, so that in the end I would succumb under their mounting weight. Memories lie slumbering within us for months and years, quietly proliferating, until they are woken by some trifle and in some strange way blind us to life. How often this has caused me to feel that my memories, and the labours expended in writing them down are all part of the same humiliating and, at bottom, contemptible business! And yet, what would we be without memory? We would not be capable of ordering even the simplest thoughts, the most sensitive heart would lose the ability to show affection, our existence would be a mere neverending chain of meaningless moments, and there would not be the faintest trace of a past. How wretched this life of ours is!--so full of false conceits, so futile, that it is little more than the shadow of the chimeras loosed by memory. My sense of estrangement is becoming more and more dreadful.” 40 likes
“Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life.” 19 likes
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