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The Rings of Saturn

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The Rings of Saturn — with its curious archive of photographs — records a walking tour along the east coast of England. A few of the things which cross the path and mind of its narrator (who both is and is not Sebald) are lonely eccentrics, Sir Thomas Browne's skull, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, recession-hit seaside towns, wooded hills, Joseph Conrad, Rembrandt's "Anatomy Lesson," the natural history of the herring, the massive bombings of WWII, the dowager empress Tzu Hsi, and the silk industry in Norwich.

296 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

W.G. Sebald

42 books1,398 followers
Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald was a German writer and academic. His works are largely concerned with the themes of memory, loss of memory, and identity (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 people.

At the time of his death at the age of only 57, he was being cited by many literary critics as one of the greatest living authors, and was tipped as a possible future recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,495 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,399 reviews3,278 followers
April 15, 2022
W.G. Sebald resides in the intellectual world so any event in his life brings up some literary, cultural or historical reminiscences…
Several times during the day I felt a desire to assure myself of a reality I feared had vanished forever by looking out of that hospital window, which, for some strange reason, was draped with black netting, and as dusk fell the wish became so strong that, contriving to slip over the edge of the bed to the floor, half on my belly and half sideways, and then to reach the wall on all fours, I dragged myself, despite the pain, up to the window sill. In the tortured posture of a creature that has raised itself erect for the first time I stood leaning against the glass. I could not help thinking of the scene in which poor Gregor Samsa, his little legs trembling, climbs the armchair and looks out of his room, no longer remembering (so Kafka’s narrative goes) the sense of liberation that gazing out of the window had formerly given him.

Consequently, the author tells the tale of his hiking along the eastern coast of England in the truly Borgesian traditions so the story of his journey becomes as picturesque and exotic as if he travelled about The Rings of Saturn
The denial of time, so the tract on Orbius Tertius tells us, is one of the key tenets of the philosophical schools of Tlön. According to this principle, the future exists only in the shape of our present apprehensions and hopes, and the past merely as memory. In a different view, the world and everything now living in it was created only moments ago, together with its complete but illusory pre-history. A third school of thought variously describes our earth as a cul-de-sac in the great city of God, a dark cave crowded with incomprehensible images, or a hazy aura surrounding a better sun.

There are no greater calamities and no greater curios in the world than those suggested by history.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,232 followers
February 10, 2015

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 inexactitude whereby the Portuguese word for slaves or workers was appended to an area of coast : lavradores. The indigenous peoples of Labrador were later ministered to by the Moravian brethren, whose founder, Jan Hus, was burned for heresy in 1415. It is said the brushwood and straw was piled around him up to the neck but the Papal executioners could not prevent the John Hus Moravian Church being established in Brooklyn in 1966 which I discovered and visited on my walking tour of the outer boroughs of New York City in 1981. Unfortunately it was closed at that time. As I passed the Golden Hill take-away on Haydn Road

its uninspiring shopfront nevertheless brought to mind the cruel life of the Dowager Empress T'zu-Hsi, who personally strangled eight of her own sons, including the schizophrenic Emperor T'ung-chih and whose influence in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century in China was ahistorically described by Edwin Featherstonehaugh of Bedevere College, Oxford as that of a human boll weevil. Adult weevils overwinter in well-drained areas in or near cotton fields after diapause and emerge in late spring to feed on immature cotton bolls. I was now completely lost. I had thought that Haydn Road abutted Sherwood High Street and that the Chinese Tang dynasty was at right angles (seen from seaward) to the music of George Handel, especially the Oboe Concertos Nos 1 and 2, but I could now see that this was untrue. I cut through some back gardens, avoiding outgrowths of the literary quarrels of eighteenth century London, but I was not deft enough to avoid the replica of Sharaf al-Din al-Tusi's 12th century astrolabe which some Sherwoodian child had left casually lying upon the ground. The planet Neptune caught me a severe blow upon the shin. Stesso sangue, stessa sorte, I muttered under my breath. The commotion attracted the attention of another dog, not a Labrador, more a kind of bull terrier crossbreed, which inspired me to discover a previously unknown twitchell, ginny, or back passage, which led into Sherwood High Street. It was by now eleven in the morning but the sky was leaden, bilious and no sun was shining.

A pall hung over Sherwood High Street, making Boots, the Italian Tile and Bathroom Centre and Bargain Booze and Cigs seem spectral presences. A succession of images passed through my mind – I remembered Algernon Swinburne, my own uncle Heinfried, a small potato I once had failed to eat, a bus ride between Rhyll and Westphalia, the faked autopsy photographs of Pope Pius XII, a Christmas cake with the face of the Christ inside it, as revealed by Consuela Marisa Ramirez in 1977, a particular kind of cross-stitching used only by the Tuskarora, and only, apparently, in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, and that all these things were connected. I knew this with a clarity which was almost but not quite beyond my powers of expression. The snipe has a life cycle which is nearly identical to that of Stephen Hawking. I have found some things to be true in eastern Bavaria but nowhere else, and should you express these Bavarian truths elsewhere, you will be taken for a fool. The part of Sherwood I was now in had almost crumbled into the sea. Some of the shops – the Co-Operative, and a branch of Barclays Bank, were hanging over the edge of the cliff, visibly eroding. The employees were all equipped with harnesses affixed to the ceilings in case of a sudden slippage. In 1225 an outbreak of very small turtles in the eastern Andean region of Titihoptacetlpopl caused the mass emigration we now refer to as Uruguay. I felt that I needed a cup of tea. I sat on the cliff edge, sipping weak tea, under a looming livid sky, and contemplated the rusted cars 100 feet below, the surging waves, and the retreating certainties.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,123 reviews1,625 followers
January 6, 2023

Gli anelli di Saturno.

C’è un viandante che negli anni Novanta del secolo scorso se ne va a piedi attraverso la contea di Suffolk, in East Anglia, che non è proprio il primo posto che viene voglia di visitare nel Regno Unito di Gran Bretagna (è però il primo posto da dove partivano gli aerei alleati che andavano a bombardare a tappeto la Germania nazista, come racconta lo stesso Sebald in Storia naturale della distruzione).
Come si vede nella magnifica foto riproposta in copertina, calza stivali di cuoio, invece di scarpe da trekking - racchiude le sue cose in uno zaino informe invece di quelli anatomici. Niente abbigliamento e oggetti tecnici che possano agevolare il cammino e l’andare, l’aspetto che domina rimanda a un tempo che fu.

L’immagine di copertina dell’edizione Adelphi.

Se ne va in giro sapendo un sacco di cose, piacevolmente erudito e in grado di collegare un’aringa a una stella e all’invenzione della luce elettrica passando per Bioy Casares.
Fa venire in mente un appassionato rigattiere che si muove nel suo negozio pieno di carabattole, ma per lui gioielli preziosi, cose di altri, e di tutto conosce la storia, il percorso, la vita.
E fa anche venire in mente quelle torte sfornate da certe nonne, ancora calde, che si comincia ad assaggiare con cautela per evitare ustioni, e boccone dopo pezzetto, il gusto conquista e spinge a tagliare fette sempre più grandi.
L’appetito vien mangiando, e di questo viandante e dei suoi racconti e divagazioni non si riesce più a fare a meno, se ne vorrebbero sempre altri.

Lo scrittore vagabondo trova sulla riva del mare un recinto che rinchiude un centinaio di maiali addormentati: scavalca la recinzione elettrificata (bella prova di determinazione e di spregio della proprietà privata), si china vicino a uno dei cento animali e si mette a fargli grattini dietro l’orecchio, proprio come si fa al gatto di casa; nel frattempo, si accoccola sulla spiaggia e pensa a due pseudo scienziati che si sforzarono di ricavare luce naturale dal corpo delle aringhe morte, e si chiamavano Herrington (in inglese aringa si dice herring) e Lightbown (light=luce); ma anche a quell’articolo del noto quotidiano ‘Eastern Daily Press’, di cui ci fornisce testimonianza fotografica nel caso fossimo scettici, intitolato ‘Housekeeper Rewarded for Silent Dinners’, cioè la vicenda della cuoca di un eccentrico ricco signore a nome, non a caso, di George Wyndham Le Strange, cuoca che ricevette un’eredità di milioni di sterline perché lo strano signor Le Strange voleva godere della sua silenziosa compagnia durante i pasti.

André Kertész: New York. 1954. Assenza di fretta e urgenza.

Qualche anno prima che DF Wallace esprimesse la stessa preoccupazione raccontandoci del festival che nel Maine viene dedicato al noto crostaceo, anche il nostro viandante si interrogava sulla sofferenza dei pesci, sul lungo processo che li porta alla morte (nel caso del nostro trattasi di aringhe, e non aragoste).
Non so perché, ma sospetto che il nostro (e anche DFW) siano giunti a queste domande e considerazioni riflettendo sulle tante persone che si dichiarano contrarie all’uccisione a scopo di nutrimento di animali che abitano la crosta terrestre o il cielo, ma di fronte a quelli che vivono nell’acqua dimostrano la più totale indifferenza e la massima libidine.

”Lezione di anatomia del dottor Tulp”, 1632, conservato al Mauritshuis di L’Aia. Il dipinto fu commissionato al pittore dalla Gilda dei Medici di Amsterdam. Rappresenta il professor Nicolaes Tulp, titolare della locale cattedra di anatomia, mentre esegue la dissezione del corpo di un giustiziato del quale, grazie ai documenti, conosciamo l'identità: Adrian Adrianeszoon detto "Het Kindt", famigerato criminale impiccato ad Amsterdam nel gennaio del 1632. In un'epoca in cui non esisteva ancora la refrigerazione elettrica per conservare i cadaveri, le anatomie si potevano tenere solo nei mesi più freddi: conseguenzialmente, possiamo dedurre che l'intervento su Het Kindt sia stato tenuto da Tulp poco dopo la sua impiccagione. Il dipinto, quindi, è databile alla prima metà dell'anno.

Lungo il cammino gli capita di pensare a La lezione di anatomia del dottor Tulp che Rembrandt dipinse nel 1632: ci porta dentro lo stupendo quadro, ci aiuta a ‘leggerlo’, a guardarlo – anche se poi a me sembra che prenda una cantonata, erudita, ma sempre di cantonata si tratta, non c’è nessuna confusione tra destra e sinistra nella tela, e se proprio di ‘errori’ si vuol parlare, è altrove che bisogna cercare.

Il conte di Sandwich, dal peso di trecento libbre (136 chili, nomen omen) doveva essere un bizzarro spettacolo, mentre gesticolava freneticamente avvolto dalle fiamme sul ponte di poppa della Royal James bombardata dalla flotta olandese il 28 maggio del 1672.

Sulla spiaggia guardata dall’alto gli sembra di vedere un grosso mollusco che gli suscita un panico improvviso: ma la minuziosa descrizione lascia intendere che si tratta di una coppia intenta a fare l’amore fino al raggiungimento dell’orgasmo - e qui forse il voyerismo del nostro riceve il suo giusto premio (o punizione, se si preferisce).

André Kertész: New York, 9 luglio 1978.

Si addormenta davanti alla tivvu nel salotto di un albergo mentre inizia ad andare in onda un documentario su Roger Casement (il celta di Vargas Llosa): ci racconta non solo il poco che si ricorda dell’ascolto nel dormiveglia, ma anche quanto appreso dopo, fra ricerche e studi. Solo che comincia da tutt’altra parte, molto lontano, dalla storia di Joseph Conrad e la triste fine dei suoi genitori; ma anche Conrad a un certo punto approdò in Congo (dove avrebbe tratto fonti e ispirazione per ‘Cuore di tenebra’ altrimenti?), conobbe Casement, come lui fu scandalizzato dai metodi dei colonialisti belgi, probabilmente senza confronto al mondo. E leggendo queste pagine ho pensato che re Leopoldo sarebbe stato fiero e felice di avere come sudditi i protagonisti di altre pagine di questo strepitoso libro, gli ustascia croati, allegri e fantasiosi massacratori di serbi, bosniaci (ed ebrei, ça va sans dire) durante l’invasione nazista, gente che anche alle SS sapeva insegnare qualcosa di nuovo nel campo della mattanza.

Grant Gee: Patience (After Sebald). Documentario del 2011.

C’è un trenino a scartamento ridotto che collega due ‘celebri’ località inglesi, Southwould a Halesworth: il nostro non se lo perde di certo e qui inizia uno dei capitoli forse più eccentrici e divertenti. Le carrozze ferroviarie pare fossero state ordinate dall’imperatore cinese e poi invece la commessa non fu mai ritirata. WGS ne approfitta per fare un po’ di ricerche sull’argomento, che evidentemente ancora non padroneggia pienamente: ci regala un breve saggio di storia cinese, concentrandosi sui conflitti anglo-cinesi, a partire dalla Guerra dell’Oppio, con una predilezione per battaglie e assedi e numero di morti (cifre da capogiro) che stride pensando al pacifico viandante della copertina. E stride anche rispetto allo stile e al tono della narrazione: impossibile credere che il nostro abbia mai alzato o imbracciato un’arma qualsiasi.
E intanto abbiamo fatto conoscenza con Cixi, l’Imperatrice Vedova, ex concubina del defunto Imperatore, che condannava i principi disubbidienti a morte per vivisezione mediante taglio a fette dell’intero corpo: solo che poi, in un gesto di graziosa indulgenza, commutò la sentenza nell’autorizzazione a impiccarsi da soli inviando ai colpevoli un cappio di seta.
Prendendo spunto da Cixi, che di mattina presto assumeva per prima cosa, quale elisir destinato a mantenerla invulnerabile, una perla ridotta in polvere, viene automatico raccontare la decadenza di Dunwich, fiorente porto del medioevo, adesso ridotto a poche case, e di qui ragionare su come l’umanità in cerca di nuove prospettive scelga sempre l’Ovest, per finire al poeta Swinburne, ai suoi attacchi di simil epilessia, e alla sua testa così grande che era difficile trovasse il capello della misura giusta.

Dunwich è un piccolo villaggio costiero nella contea di Suffolk in Inghilterra. La cittadina vive prevalentemente del turismo che ruota attorno al museo e alle rovine. Nel Medioevo, la città era molto più estesa dell'attuale, era un importante porto per il commercio della lana, grazie alla sua posizione favorevole in corrispondenza di un'insenatura naturale riparata dal mare tra le foci dei fiumi Blyth e Dunwich.

In tutto questo solitario incedere, che non sapevo allora né so oggi se fosse per me benefico o tormentoso, assistiamo a degli incontri memorabili.
Come quello con Alec Garrard che ha smesso di occuparsi delle sue terre e ridotto al minimo i capi da allevare, si dimentica persino di riscuotere dagli affittuari, e dedica tutto il suo tempo e la sua energia a costruire, all’interno di una stalla senza riscaldamento, un modello in scala (dieci metri quadri) del tempio di Gerusalemme, che rimase in piedi circa cento anni, mentre la sua riproduzione si augura il bricoleur possa reggere più a lungo: migliaia di persone, centinaia di colonne, pannelli di un centimetro quadro per rivestire il soffitto, fregi, tutto modellato e dipinto a mano, in scala rigorosa.
E siccome nel frattempo studia ricerca allarga le sue cognizioni sulla materia, la costruzione rallenta retrocede devia, perché deve smantellare distruggere modificare il lavoro appena compiuto (più torre di Babele che Tempio di Gerusalemme, viene da pensare).
Naturale che i vicini e la famiglia lo prendano per matto: ma arriva Lord Rothschild con la sua limousine per chiedergli di poter esporre il plastico una volta ultimato all’interno della sua proprietà, e la reputazione di Alec Garrard subisce un’impennata. Il lettore si chiede se Sebald si stia specchiando in Garrard, e se abbia già incontrato il suo personale Lord Rothschild che viaggia in limousine.

Alec Garrard accanto al suo plastico.

Fra gli incontri virtuali, trovo notevole quello con lo scrittore Edward Fitzgerald, vissuto nell’Ottocento, che nel suo romitaggio passava la maggior parte del tempo a leggere sregolatamente nelle più diverse lingue, a scrivere lettere su lettere, a prendere appunti per un lessico dei luoghi comuni [il Dictionnaire des idées reçues?], a raccogliere parole e locuzioni per un glossario esaustivo di nautica e di vita marinara, nonché a realizzare scrapbooks di ogni genere possibile e immaginabile. Amava in particolare sprofondarsi nella lettura degli epistolari dei tempi passati, ad esempio in quello di Madame de Sévigné, una persona per lui molto più reale dei suoi amici ancora in vita.
Quanto è forte la sensazione che WGS si stia guardando allo specchio, stia descrivendo se stesso!

Gli anelli di Saturno è un libro sulla malinconia (da secoli l’umorismo malinconico viene ricondotto a Saturno). Ricco di dettagli complessi, di oggetti strani, di allusioni e simboli come Melencolia I, il quadro di Dürer citato all’inizio, questo narratore è triste o immerso nelle sue fantasie proprio come la figura alata del quadro, che non si capisce (e le interpretazioni sono diverse) se si stia sottraendo al lavoro o stia invece contemplando una nuova grandiosa realizzazione.

Grant Gee: Patience (After Sebald). Documentario (2011).

Eccentrico, dotto e, appunto, malinconico, il narratore di queste pagine, man mano che si avvicina alla fine dell’opera, svela il suo vero scopo: lo scopo del suo narrare non sono le divagazioni letterarie storiche artistiche scientifiche geografiche stimolate dal vagabondaggio, che potrebbero andare avanti per sempre e scomporsi negli stessi illimitati dettagli e oggetti dell’incisione di Dürer (o come nell’ultimo capitolo, nella quantità di reperti contenuti nel museo immaginario di Thomas Browne) - ma la tela di WGS a ben guardare rappresenta un progetto più vasto, una storia naturale della distruzione (The Natural History of Destruction, titolo di un’altra sua opera).
Ad assorbire i miei pensieri nel periodo successivo fu, in ogni caso, il ricordo non solo della splendida libertà di movimento goduta allora, ma anche dell’orrore paralizzante da cui ero stato più volte assalito davanti alle tracce della distruzione che, persino in quella località sperduta, risalivano al lontano passato.

Melencolia I o Melacholia I è un'incisione a bulino (23,9 x 28,9 cm) di Albrecht Dürer, siglata e datata al 1514, e conservata, tra le migliori copie esistenti, nella Staatliche Kunsthalle di Karlsruhe. L'opera, densa di riferimenti esoterici, tra cui il quadrato magico, è una delle incisioni più famose in assoluto, oggetto anche di omaggi come quello di Dan Brown nel romanzo Il simbolo perduto.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,176 followers
June 23, 2017
2nd read. One of my sacred texts. Maybe Sebald's masterpiece. One of those "if you don't like this book well that's on you, not the book, buddy" deals. Everything he does done damn near perfect pitch. As capitalist consumerist ethics and technology-dulled sensory blight inexorably infect all regions and human terrains, and even the way we map those terrains, and even more so how we think about and conceive of mapping those terrains, I will retreat happily away into realms of pure words and sounds - where vestiges of humanity and imagination still thrive, like a hidden rainforest under the city, full of weird animal and vegetative life (memory, intimate experience, organic elision that also produces meaning ...) Rings of Saturn is a knee-high abyssal-emotional archive of everything we're losing, since we're tainted with annihilation the day we are born, cast out to glide in a forgetful stream, dreamwalking our way through thick, ancient time. Wade in, don't be scared, it's only knee-high.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
727 reviews11.6k followers
November 23, 2022
I never thought I was a goal-oriented reader (thanks, Justin, for giving words to that feeling I kept having when reading this book!) — and yet this book made me realize that apparently I am. Apparently, despite preaching that reading is about a journey, not a destination I hypocritically long for that journey to get somewhere, for the quest to have a goal, for the story to have something to be about. Don’t get me wrong - a bit of digression is always wonderful, and I’ll quote Salinger’s eternal rebel Holden Caulfield here just to show that I *get* it: “Oh, I don’t know. That digression business got on my nerves. I don’t know. The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

Why quote Holden Caulfield when talking about The Rings of Saturn, you ask? Well, damn. I suppose because I can. Because Sebald’s book is really a master exercise in the art of digression, a collection of loose narrative associations that eventually make it pretty much impossible to trace back to figure out where you actually started in this rambling game of meandering associations, digressions and loosely connected side stories — although actually there cannot be any side stories in a book that does not *have* a story and is more of a loose collection of paragraph-averse essays within essays within essays, matryoshka-doll-style.
“Unfortunately I am a completely impractical person, caught up in endless trains of thought.”

Supposedly the loose framework of this story is the writer convalescing in the hospital, recalling a trip taken in the English countryside — but it’s really just an excuse to set up a couple of hundred of pages of a journey through Sebald’s thoughts and memories — ruminating at great length about everything under the Sun, the more esoteric the better. Joseph Conrad’s early life, horrors of slavery in Congo under Belgian rule (and his overall dislike of Belgians), herring fishing*, the Troubles in Ireland, Amazon forest fires, crumbling English mansions, Chinese dynastic succession, silkworm farming and Nazism, eroding coastal town of Dunwich, Chateaubriand‘s love story, Algernon Charles Swinburne’s life... And we get musings on human nature and human destructive selfishness — all done melancholically and in beautiful writing.
* Man, I’m having major herring cravings right about now.

You know that situation where you are trapped on a very long flight next to an erudite and well-spoken old guy who decides to spill out all of his thoughts about everything, barely pausing to take a breath and eat a bag of peanuts, and then returning to the wandering and meandering narrative while you listen in stunned and a bit uncomfortable fascination while squeezed in a middle seat and having no idea how you got to any particular part in this one-sided outpouring of life and soul and weird esoteric minutiae of pretty much everything? And yet you are a bit enthralled nevertheless.

Or maybe it’s like going down the rabbithole of clicking on Wikipedia links, letting one topic lead you to another for hours and hours, and looking up in the end with no clear memory of how you got to that article on zero gravity toilet in the first place.
“Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers.”

Yeah. That. But wait — where was I? Oh right, my mind was wandering a bit, but I blame Sebald for it. And the problem here is that no matter how fascinating Sebald’s tidbits would get, I kept forgetting them as soon as we flittered to another unconnected topic, with only a vague feeling of remembering fascination lingering a few pages later, but memory of what and why already fading. Luckily, same forgetting brought on by constant shifts and digressions applied to less interesting parts, so there’s that.

And dear higher power of choice, have paragraph breaks offended Sebald at some point? I assume he does not need to take a breath when talking or writing, but I need it when reading, and wall-to-wall text is not so conducive to that purpose. Same with quotation marks, actually. Jose Saramago has met his match.

And yeah, I most definitely don’t *get* it. I’m probably too much of a goal-oriented reader and not sophisticated enough to fully immerse myself in evocative beauty of the writing. I can’t keep my mind from wandering off, distracted by all the digressions.

So maybe it’s not the book, it’s me. I appreciate the experience — but my brain is not made for this. But maybe one day I’ll revisit this and my impression will change.

So 2.5 stars, I suppose, although stars are kind of immaterial when it comes to this book. And speaking about the stars, let me digress… Oh wait, I’m NOT Sebald.

Buddy read with Justin, whose much more favorable review from which I stole the “goal-oriented reader” line is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Recommended by: Left Coast Justin


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,842 reviews5,003 followers
July 20, 2014
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 room in which the narrator lies suffering from a vaguely described inertia, medical or mental.

St Sebald, from whom the author's family name comes

There is a documentary called "Patience" based on or inspired by this book, I'll have to track it down. I'll also definitely be reading more Sebald. Perhaps After Nature as a paired reading with Against Nature? I'd also be interested in After Nature because it was translated by Hamburger, who was a personal friend with whom Sebald seems to have felt he had much in common (he visits him in The Rings of Saturn and discusses this). I'm also interested in reading his poetry, as I very much liked Kay Ryan's poem inspired by this book.
Profile Image for William2.
737 reviews2,881 followers
August 27, 2020
I read this with awe and wonder when it appeared in 1998. Broadly its main themes are the eccentric and grotesque aspects of Britain’s decline—including the peregrinations of Thomas Browne’s skull, dubious capitalism, carpet bombing of Nazi Germany, 20th century Imperialism, case of Roger Casement, Belgian Congo genocide, quasi-repatriation of Michael Hamburger, Tai-ping rebellion, Joseph Conrad‘s Congo excursion, Edward Fitzgerald‘s life and times, etc.—and how these end, or, indeed, constitute, decay, dissolution and death. But this third time through the book of connected stories seems less gripping. I suppose one reason is that Sebald’s devices no longer strike one as fresh. It feels this time like a very literary potpourri or melange. Another problem is that the book lacks a strong central character—the narrator’s travels don’t really tie its disparate strands together adequately, in my view, which is why I find its predecessor, The Emigrants, far stronger. Just as I find Austerlitz, with it strong characters, more appealing than Vertigo. Still, this is a very good book. Four stars is not nothing. A note on the photographs Sebald uses throughout; they are all, almost without exception, bad photography. They seem somehow specious. They illustrate nothing.
Profile Image for StefanP.
162 reviews72 followers
July 24, 2021

Ono što opažamo su samo pojedinačna svijetla u ponoru neznanja, u kome duboke, lelujave sjenke ispunjavaju građevine svijeta. Mi proučavamo poredak stvari, ali ono što je u njima, nama je nedokučivo.

Dvoglave zmije amfisbena. Komadić mora s plovećim santama leda, na kojima sjede morski konji, medvjedi, lisice i divlje ptice. Metode mučenja u Turskoj prilikom izricanja smrtne kazne: skraćivanje tijela dio po dio. O, Adame!

Zebald se stavio u ulogu fotografa koji bilježi olupine propadljivog i prolaznog svijeta i koji se ne ograničava u njegovom pukom reprodukovanju nego ga jezgrovito oživotvoruje. On zna da fotografija pruža samo jedan od prizora i ugodnosti čovjekovom oku, da je to nešto što pluta i što daje samo površnost onoga što želi da se prikaže. Zato on pisanom riječju započinje da zalazi pod kožu svega onoga što nas okružuje, što gledamo u datom trenutku i koje teži ka transformaciji unutar sebe. Tvarca jenjava i sklona je zaboravu, zato joj treba dati smisao i pisanom riječju objelodaniti njenu svrhovitost i istinitost, kao štit od potpunog uništenja i zaborava. Pa tako piščeve skrupule poniru u tananom, beskrajnom pejzažu čije skice predstavljaju otuđene živote, prognane i izgubljene ljude, suše, glad i ratove. Zebald jeste divan umjetnik, jer način na koji on dočarava toliku raznovrsnost događaja iz stvarnog života, budi u nama neku sumanutu razgaljenost. Njegovo pripovjedačko tkanje prožeto komentarima, divnim jezikom i stilom uobličava ovu knjigu u jednu hronološku nit koja sažima uzvišenu judskost i okoštalu animalnost, surovost i srdačnost. Taman kada počnemo malo da se radujemo, Zebald se okreće ka sumornim tonovima i krv u našim žilama počinje da ledi, pri čemu činjenice počinju da klize u opsjenost. Saturnovi prstenovi je jedna od onih knjiga koje nas podsjećaju da je svijet ophrvan anomalijama, i da sa dubokom zainteresovanošću trebamo krčiti put ka nevidljivosti i nepojmljivosti onoga što nas pokreće.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews3,976 followers
July 9, 2014
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, Sebald took his walk around the county of Suffolk. Suffolk, just to give you a rough idea, is located in the area of East Anglia. East Anglia is traditionally a somewhat lowly area of the United Kingdom, sometimes used as a byword to indicate backwardness or dreariness, full of flatlands, fens and swamps. Suffolk itself is in the southern half of the region, with a fairly sizable coastal area. It is under constant threat of coastal erosion, with some towns having actually been lost to the sea, many times over. To give you some idea of orientation and general tone:

Map of Suffolk

River in Suffolk

Beach in Suffolk

It is also a rather ancient area of human habitation. It was colonized by the Angles in the reasonably recent Christian era (about the fifth century) but it is also full of archeological finds from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and other eras up to the present. (This is where that famous Anglo-Saxon burial ship with full regal regalia was found, for instance.)

This is, in a way, also what Sebald is up to. His remembrance of his walk through Suffolk is essentially a series of mini-essays, digging up archeological memories from his own mind and the landscape he sees around him, fading in and out of the present sometimes as often as he turns his head for a better view. The subjects of these digressions range from a straightforward history of a formerly glorious manor home he comes across on his first walk, a discussion of Joseph Conrad of Heart of Darkness fame, inspired by the tragic case of Roger Casement, the sad tale of formerly bustling, repeatedly washed out Dunwich, an isolated craftsman working on a famous, minute replica of the Temple at Jerusalem, a sketched portrait of Swinburne and tales of the last days of the Chinese empire. The essay are sometimes analytical in tone, sometimes they take the form of a New Yorker-like story with commentary interspersed, and occasionally we are even offered scenes of drama or fanciful feeling.

Yet despite these different tacks, Sebald's sensibility throughout is that of someone giving a eulogy for things long forgotten. Without ever directly saying so, he shows how the land he walks through is saturated with history, with present and past memory layered loosely on top of each other. Perhaps the best example of this is his exploration of Dunwich. Dunwich, in about the 12th century, was a bustling port with fifty or more churches and a large fleet of fishing and merchant vessels almost perpetually at anchor. Windmills dotted the horizon and shipyards saw to the needs of the ships at anchor. (Sebald notes that a quarter of a large fleet heading to the Crusades, with hundreds of knights and thousands of soldiers, sailed from Dunwich in 1230.) However, the town was built, for some reason best known to the locals, on a cliff. Erosion gradually ate away at the town, taking first some of the churches and then the town in a series of vicious flash floods that began in 1285 and recurred over the course of the next few centuries every few decades or so. The locals first tried to rebuild and then gradually moved their houses farther and farther away from the sea until the port town gradually faded away. Sebald's wandering mind slides from the scenes of repeated, utter disaster to a wide-angle mention of an ongoing trend in human behavior that mirrors that of Dunwich, if for different reasons.

"Little by little the people of Dunwich.. abandoned their hopeless struggle and turned their backs on the sea. Whenever their declining means allowed it, they built to the westward in a protracted flight that went on for generations; the slowly dying town thus followed- by reflex, one might say- one of the fundamental patterns of human behavior. A strikingly large number of our settlements are oriented to the west, and, where circumstances permit, relocate in a westward direction. The east stands for lost causes. Especially at the time when the continent of America was being colonized, it was noticeable that the townships spread to the west even as their eastern districts were falling apart. In Brazil, to this day, whole provinces die down like fires when the land is exhausted by overcropping and new areas to the west are opened up. In North America, too, countless settlements of various kinds, complete with gas stations, motels and shopping malls, move west along the turnpikes, and along that axis, affluence and squalor are unfailingly polarized."

This is indicative of the sort of stream of consciousness-like musings that are typical of Sebald's writing in this volume. Yet the stream, as is often the case with the best writers, is not one way. There are tides that flow in and out, as he returns to the particulars of Dunwich again, taking the time to point out that he is not the first to arrive at the shores of Dunwich and sit down to dream houses and boats and history into being:

"Dunwich, with its towers and many thousand souls, has dissolved into water, sand and thin air. If you look out from the cliff-top across the sea towards where the town must one have been, you can sense the immense power of emptiness. Perhaps it was for this reason that Dunwich became a place of pilgrimage for melancholy poets in the Victorian age."

This becomes both a jumping off point for a descriptive essay on Swinburne, one of these poets, and, I think, perhaps a way for Sebald to analyze his own motives in undertaking a journey similar to men of a very different age, with quite different priorities and sensibilities. What is it that attracted them? stands in for "Why am I here?"

Another, more odd and, in its way, even more haunting version of this, which was personally the most evocative for me, is his encounter with the Ashbury family. In contrast to Dunwich, a place irrevocably battered and forced to change by time, the Ashburys are an example of what happens with the "leftovers" of that change. They are the remnants that somehow slipped through time's loopholes, living a surreal existence that ought, by rights, to have ceased to be possible half a century or more beforehand. The Ashburys live near a chain of mountains in Ireland in a cottage-like, neglected and fading house that has seen better days. The Ashburys took up the legacy of their current house just after the Second World War, an "unsaleable" house formerly belonging to Ireland's ruling classes. The family arrived after the initial Troubles period, but the land was bathed in it, and so were their prospects. Much like the stagnant place itself, the life of the Ashburys, to Sebald's view, "had about it something aimless and meaningless and seemed not so much part of a daily routine as an expression of a deeply engrained distress." Each member of the household has a tale to tell of some enterprise or skill that they have or once had, some idea they once came up with in the era of life when you're supposed to be thinking about what you want to do with yourself, but it seems to always end in "... but then nothing ever came of it." They are like figures who have been captured out of time, unable to move forward, or due to financial means, get out. So they move in a kind of enchanted stasis, repeating traditional motions for no reason at all:

"I do not think that Mrs. Ashbury had any idea what distant fields the seeds she collected might one day fall on, any more than Catherine and her two sisters Clarissa and Christina knew why they spent several hours every day in one of the north-facing rooms, where they had stored great quantities of remnant fabrics, sewing multi-colored pillowcases, counterpanes and similar items. Like giant children under an evil spell, the three unmarried daughters, much of an age, sat on the floor amidst these mountains of material, working away and only rarely breathing a word to each other. The movement they made as they drew the thread sideways and upwards with every stitch reminded me of things that were so far back in the past that I felt my heart sink at the thought of how little time remained."

In Dunwich, Sebald saw some remains of buildings, rocks that may have indicated where settlements once were. But in this case the remains were people. And I think it is most poignant that this family's origins were not in this enchanted world. Mrs. Ashbury married into it long after the first battles were over, her husband would tell her nothing about it, so the little she and her children knew was picked up from legend, rumor, scraps. Then, while trying to work out how to live there and get by, the family slowly turned into one of those scraps themselves. How do we bathe ourselves in the past and not get caught by the spiderweb, the way the Ashburys did?

A few other essays follow these themes- looking out into bare flatlands and seeing the ghosts of what has been, exploring why it is no more. Yet he is careful not to let his sense of elegy and need to bear witness to a past that is still to some degree present slide fully into sentimentality for 'the past' as such. He balances his visions of Dunwich port and decaying Victorian homes with fiery tales of figures like Roger Casement, a shamefully disregarded civil servant of the imperial era who famously stood up for various "native" groups in areas the empire was occupying, from Africa to Ireland. His later description of the violence that accompanied the shift to Home Rule for Ireland is scarcely less fierce-eyed, and it doesn't once give any indication of being distracted by the mysticism that seems to often afflict writers approaching Irish history.

But he is not simply a storyteller or a detached analytic looking at people and locations under the microscope and connecting threads. Sometimes Sebald is overwhelmed by what he is seeing as well, and that is where the fanciful feeling I mentioned earlier comes out. There are plenty of moments of stillness where Sebald weaves his imagination through what he sees, embroidering what he experiences so it is lifted it out of quotidian worries like flies in the marshlands and cold in your feet and into the realm of dreams:

"Time and again, vast dust clouds drifted through Flaubert's dreams by day and by night, raised over the arid plains of Africa and moving north across the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula till they settled like ash from a fire on the Tuileries gardens, a suburb of Rouen or a country town in Normandy... In a grain of sand in the hem of Emma Bovary's winter gown, said Janine, Flaubert saw the whole of the Sahara."

"I watched the shadow of our plan hastening below us across hedges and fences, rows of poplars and canals. Along a line that seemed to have been drawn with a ruler a tractor crawled through a field of stubble, dividing it into one lighter and one darker half. Nowhere, however, was a single human being to be seen. No matter whether one is flying over Newfoundland or the sea of lights that stretches from Boston to Philadelphia after nightfall, over the Arabian deserts which gleam like mother-of-pearl, over the Ruhr or the city of Frankfurt, it is as though there were no people, only the things they have made and in which they are hiding."

Sebald, I think, possesses many of the qualities which I have come to think are essential for anyone writing a travel essay/memoir of this sort. He has the capability to be a critic of what he sees, the interest and determination to pursue further research of anything that seems worth it, the sort of active minds that allows him to keep thinking and associating and being present even after walking a dozen or more miles, and the passion to convey the why of what he is doing. His clearly extensive education, international experience and perspective, and his little circle of equally passionate, interesting acquaintances add additional richness to the book and give its wandering nature clear purpose.

The only faults I can really find with this book is that occasionally Sebald's prose can cross the line from beautiful and reflective into territory that was too schmaltzy and sentimental for me (but that is really very occasionally), and, as would be the case with any set of essays that cover such widely disparate topics, some stories struck my fancy much more strongly than others. I will always be ready to read fifty more pages about melancholic Victorian poets than I will about exploring leftover Cold War paranoias at former bomb testing sites. But I cannot emphasize enough that these were minor problems in what was otherwise one of the most pleasantly competent reflections on the inevitable nature of time and change and human idiosyncrasies in the face of that I can remember reading.

I've read that a number of the men and women considered the great minds of the last few centuries were famous walkers, who were notorious for being unable to work out knotty problems while sitting down. Count Sebald's work as another variation that proves the theme.


(*The other two memoirs were Fermor's Time of Gifts and MacFarlane's The Old Ways. I will grant you that Fermor spends little time in the British Isles itself, but it is where he starts and in part inspires him to travel so I feel entitled to claim it. In any case, I highly recommend both.)
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
972 reviews1,193 followers
March 27, 2017
So it turned out that I was going to get round to reading more Sebald (after Austerlitz, over three years ago), and it was going to be this one. And, unlike Austerlitz, which is incontrovertibly a novel, to read this was to experience the ur-text of what's meant by Sebaldian: vast, controlled digression, the lists, the descriptions, melancholic polymathic butterfly flitting from global to local history; travel writing, memoir, nature, biography (especially of fellow eccentrics with diverse interests: he begins and ends with Sir Thomas Browne). Not long ago I watched the film Patience (After Sebald) and in it, I think it was Christopher Maclehose recounting a conversation with Sebald, during which they discussed which topic categories his book would be given in publishing databases, and WGS said "I want all the categories!"

At first it seemed like it would be impossible to say anything about Sebald other than to link to the long, nineteenth-century-scholarly strings of topics that makes each chapter title on the contents page, and some quotes to show facets of his style, how these subjects are handled. But soon I realised how remarkably he has been integrated into literary culture over the last twenty years. It first and most strongly struck me in reading his numinous, heightened descriptions of natural phenomena: they reminded me of similar lightning flashes in a friend's writing - a friend who hasn't even read Sebald, albeit plenty of authors probably influenced by him. And Sebald, like DFW, is one of the foundations of the contemporary okaying of digression. Never mind the beginning of "creative non-fiction". There didn't seem anything so very unusual in writing this way, reading it in 2017; permission to go on like that is already assumed. But it would have been revolutionary to encounter twenty years ago. His influence is widely acknowledged in certain literary quarters, but I think it goes wider than supposed; he's almost a transitional figure between the esoteric and highbrow and the literary-mainstream, especially seen as such by those who haven't read him, but he's also present in thousands of essays and reviews and articles online and in newspapers and magazines, by people who may never even have thought of picking up one of his books.

And an appropriately-titled, saturnine creature this one is. There is ample death and melancholy here, alongside the ethereal and intellectual; it is elegantly gothic, but no room for trailing velvet garments on a trek across the countryside; with my hat in my hand and my rucksack over my shoulder, I felt like a journeyman in a century gone by, so out of place that I should not have been surprised if a band of street urchins had come skipping after me or one of Middleton's householders had stepped out upon his threshold to tell me to be on my way.

I don't actually have to mention every major topic in the book, or give it proportionate space. Obviously - because this isn't an eve-of-publication press review - but failure to realise I could ignore bits of it was one of the reasons I've been sitting at this window looking at two paragraphs, typing almost nothing else in it for a week. I'm going to end up concentrating on what I liked best, so overall the post might sound like five stars, when there were distinct reasons for that missing star. A few of those overly-fanciful old-fashioned judgements and effect-cause connections that work great when you're reading and writing outright fantasy, but I do tend to cringe at the silliness when it's couched inside more-or-less realism. (And yes, that includes the bits about what Belgians look like, and rural people and visitors.) And the history: it's part of what people read Sebald for, but there are big chunks of stuff here - about the last days of Imperial China, or the Second World War - which are quite well known already, and by which I'm not sufficiently fascinated to revel in another classic narrative-style rehash. Nor did it increase my interest in Joseph Conrad, though it is rather fascinating that he started teaching himself English using the local newspapers of Lowestoft. It's all quite beautiful, the [silk] web by which these interlock with the other topics - just could have done with fewer pages on them. (It often felt as if he included every possible tangent, but near the end he missed a trick by mentioning Rendlesham Forest's strangeness without going near the whole "British Roswell" business, which would have also connected perfectly with the abandoned defence works at Orfordness.)

Though one feature of the war is retold inventively by a gardener, in that feature of Sebaldian style I'd shorthanded in my head as "said Austerlitz", and which a couple of days before writing this paragraph, I read Christopher Hitchens, in his introduction to an old edition of Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon - found in Arguably - delineate as long and quite grammatical addresses that would be unthinkable in real life...however, in a book the solilioquy is not to be despised as a means of elucidation. (I'm fascinated by the construction of these soliloquies. Did Sebald take notes? Can't imagine him with a dictaphone. Did he later show the subjects and ask them if the rewrite reflected their meaning? I couldn't not.)

There are many more obscure subjects on which I did learn something from The Rings of Saturn. Roger Casement, merely a name mentioned occasionally in the news when I was growing up, and now I can't understand why he isn't a great hero to so many of those who criticise colonialism: someone - a gay man - who had a modicum of power in the Imperial civil service who really did try to do something about the abuses in the Congo, Peru, Colombia and Brazil, and would not be mollified by flattering "promotions" to other locations or appeased by a knighthood, whose story shows how large a system it was and how difficult it was really to help. As with the story of the Miners' Strike, where I've only realised in adulthood how biased the 1980s BBC take was, a version I'd once absorbed as definitive truth, the saga of Casement's embroilment in the Irish independence movement and downfall reads now like one who had a just cause and laudable motives, even if some of the means might have gone too far at times. Such is the way causes can be portrayed differently by history once they are no longer dangerous hot buttons.

Similiarly, some of the most memorable characters were people who were only marginally familiar. Such as Edward FitzGerald, nineteenth century translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, born to a local gentry family, an early vegetarian, who despised his peers' enclosing of the countryside and lived modestly as an eccentric recluse for the rest of his life after the death of the male friend whom, it seemed, he had loved unrequitedly for many years. I last read The Rubaiyat - in FitzGerald's version - in my teens, and after the following, I half long to re-read it, half fear that it couldn't possibly live up to Sebald's paean: a colloquy with the dead man [the author of the poem, not the friend] and an attempt to bring to us tidings of him. The English verses he devised for the purpose, which radiate with a pure, seemingly unselfconscious beauty, feign an anonymity that disdains even the least claim to authorship, and draw us, word by word, to an invisible point where the mediaeval orient and the fading occident can come together in a way never allowed them by the calamitous course of history.
Another small tragedy of nineteenth-century lost love features Chateaubriand and Charlotte Ives, who could have been together if only French Catholics were able to divorce in the late 18th century. Both examples returned me to the suspicion that people harboured these old loves for so long (and not being against the idea as many modern people are, I've tried it and found it doesn't naturally sustain for more than about three or four years) partly because it was culturally acceptable and normal - one would not be discouraged from it so much or told to get over it - also because there was much less distracting stimulation in the world (in general, but also no films featuring actors and actresses one might crush on as a transitional recovery), and as the population was so much smaller, and with less social moblity, there was a far lower chance of ever again happening on someone else who felt so right.

Other "characters" I'd never heard of before. There were Ashburys, a family of impoverished Anglo-Irish aristocrats stuck in their unsaleable, crumbling home (like the real-life, no-happy-ending version of I Capture the Castle) where Sebald once stayed as a paying guest; I shivered in recognition of how they lived under their roof like refugees who have come through dreadful ordeals and do not now dare to settle in the place where they have ended up. And, like another writer of psychogeographic melange who emerged in the south eastern quadrant of England in the 1990s, Iain Sinclair, Sebald peppers his works with casual mentions of other writers of his acquaintance - spoken of with as much reverence as one might an aged Bloomsbury emeritus - whom I'd never heard of before, feeling as if I was reading a work from some parallel universe. (Or possibly they're the same esoteric crew, shared, and I'd forgotten the names in the years between.) As ever, I wondered if these people were actually famous in corners I didn't know, or whether it was closer to my own esteem for the writing of certain friends who don't put their work forward overmuch, which no-one will convince me isn't vastly better than screeds of stuff that's widely praised, whether by newspaper reviewers or by hundreds or thousands of online Likes and followers.

Perhaps it's inevitable that among the grab-bag of topics infused in Sebald's work, one settles on favourites with which one already has an affinity. Many of mine are about landscape and loss or the passing of time.

Occasionally, the narrative is simply in the present time, with such descriptions of walks as to make one almost gasp in envy. I think you have to have spent hours walking alone in countryside to know what he means; one feels and notices far more intently then, than when distracted by the presence of companions, focused more on maintaining a semblance of symbiosis with them than on the place itself and its effects. No coincidence that most contemporary nature writers walk alone – yet until these became popular I felt it was an unusual thing to do. Some of those writings can feel redundant at times when one can wander on foot and in head oneself - but certain paragraphs of Sebald are so beautiful as to be necessary regardless and in addition; he adds so much:

Beyond the maze, shadows were drifting across the brume of the heath, and then, one by one, the stars came out from the depths of space. Night, the astonishing, the stranger to all that is human, over the mountain-tops mournful and gleaming draws on. It was as though I stood at the topmost point of the earth, where the glittering winter sky is forever unchanging; as though the heath were rigid with frost, and adders, vipers and lizards of transparent ice lay slumbering in their hollows in the sand. From my resting place in the pavilion I gazed out across the heath into the night. And I saw that, to the south, entire headlands had broken off the coast and sunk beneath the waves.

There's so much hidden in this following little paragraph about windmills - even knowing intellectually that Norwich was once England's second biggest city and the region abustle with commerce, the idea seems otherdimensional. It's hard to imagine now, I was once told by someone who could remember the turning sails in his childhood, that the white flecks of the windmills lit up the landscape just as a tiny highlight brings life to a painted eye. And when those bright little points faded, the whole region, so to speak, faded with them.

Dunwich is the central emblem of this awareness of nature and impermanence - as it was a memento mori to the Romantic poets who visited the ruins - and more relevant than ever as the world gradually wakes up to the probable flooding of metropolises as large as New York, never mind Hull, as sea levels gradually rise; it illustrates the pattern by which such things are expected to take place, in fits and starts of storms. The long quote is in comment 1; when Sebald hits his stride, you want to marvel and include everything.

In Dunwich, humans, Canute-like, tried to defy the sea. Another marvellous set-piece of writing (also below) tells of how active destruction, in the form of fire, is indivisible from human civilisation.

And for what terrible triviality they destroy. I very much enjoyed, though never, ever, envied, the author's account of staying in the awful sort of old British three star (?) hotel that proved why Fawlty Towers was closer to documentary than anyone would wish. Certainly these places abounded in the 80s and 90s, but now have perhaps been displaced by Travelodges and the like, whose supermarket homogeneity is simply, sadly, more comfortable than enduring the following:
after hunting pointlessly through the register on the reception desk, handed me a huge room key attached to a wooden pear...
shortly afterwards brought me a fish that had doubtless lain entombed in the deep-freeze for years. The breadcrumb armour-plating of the fish had been partly singed by the grill, and the prongs of my fork bent on it...
[actually, this, sans chips, sounds like some of the microwaved suppers I was served at home in my teens] Indeed it was so difficult to penetrate what eventually proved to be nothing but an empty shell that my plate was a hideous mess once the operation was over. The tartare sauce that I had had to squeeze out of a plastic sachet was turned grey by the sooty breadcrumbs, and the fish itself, or what feigned to be fish, lay a sorry wreck among the grass-green peas and the remains of soggy chips that gleamed with fat. I no longer recall how long I sat in that dining room with its gaudy wallpaper

Sebald can occasionally be funny, and food en route is one of the topics that brings out this humour (of the smile rather than LOL variety). I bought a carton of chips at McDonald's, where I felt like a criminal wanted worldwide as I stood at the brightly lit counter, and ate them as I walked back to my hotel. He's so right about the searchlight quality of the brightness of those places... and he, who knows whether deliberately or unwittingly, brings out the absurdity of the guilt every middle-class intellectual must be duty-bound to experience on walking into such a place.

In the film, and I am still searching for this moment, as it's basically impossible to put delicately in any other words apart from those used, without sounding like a petulant teenage vegan, one of the commentators feels that - although, as I discovered, these photos are not beside one another in the book, and nothing is said to this effect in print - Sebald wants us to consider some similiarity between the vast hundred-year old catches of herring and images of slaughter in the Second World War. His accounts of the seemingly limitless abundance of herring plundered to scarcity by earlier twentieth-century fishermen, succeeded by polluted seas and deformed fish, took me back to last year's Booker longlist, with The North Water on early Victorian whaling, and The Many's eerie representation of near-dead Cornish seas; if the latter's author hasn't read Rings of Saturn, I'd be very surprised - though given what I said about how Sebald has permeated the culture...
Humans are destructive fuckers, basically, is what a lot of The Rings of Saturn boils down to, although some individuals also create great beauty. The book's alpha and omega, Thomas Browne, has a melancholy view of human life which might be considered unseemly in a contemporary doctor, but at a time when one more often than not couldn't cure people, merely a bumbling witness to decline and suffering, how could it be anything other than the perceptive realism of experience. As a doctor, who saw disease growing and raging in bodies, he understood mortality better than the flowering of life. To him it seems a miracle that we should last so much as a single day.... The huntsmen are up in America, writes Thomas Browne in The Garden of Cyrus, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia. The shadow of night is drawn like a black veil across the earth, and since almost all creatures, from one meridian to the next, lie down after the sun has set, so, he continues, one might, in following the setting sun, see on our globe nothing but prone bodies, row upon row, as if levelled by the scythe of Saturn—an endless graveyard for a humanity struck by falling sickness.

Returning to the destructiveness of nature itself, one of the most revelatory accounts for me was of the 1987 hurricane. I was a kid living further north at the time and didn't see the extent of destruction in the Home Counties. I was quite disappointed it was nothing more than a big gale, no fun - but Sebald makes it sound heartbreaking in a way I'd never conceived of, and transmits a vivid fear that I'd long since stopped associating with an old worn-out news story. Long quote, again, in comment 1. (Props to Sebald for never once mentioning Michael Fish, ignoring the unwritten law that the blasé weatherman must appear in any account of that night.)

[I've struggled ridiculously to finish this post beyond the first two paragraphs, barely read anything for a week because I felt I ought to stare at the screen for untold hours get this written first, and it became a goal beyond reason to manage it; I know there's no real necessity for anyone in the world that this piece of writing exists on a GR server. I still can't think of a conclusion because the procrastination imp in my head isn't having it, and you probably know by now whether you're interested in this book, if you didn't already, so I'll just leave it here for now.]
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,392 reviews2,387 followers
June 7, 2020
Now, as I write, and think once more of our history, which is but a long account of calamities...

Is it presumptuous, I wonder, to declare Sebald a favourite writer when this is the first book of his I've read? Possibly - but there's that feeling, that he might himself possibly endorse, of feeling at home with a writer from the very first page. Which is ironic, since one of the themes of this book is precisely that sense of homelessness that confronts the many exiles nested here.

I'd also say that while a kind of restless peregrination is evoked, one which is mental and intellectual as well as physical, this book is far more unified, cohesive and organic that it first appears. From the dual epigraphs that preface the narrative we pick up motifs of destruction and fragmentation (the rings of Saturn), as well as struggle, horror, despair and loss (Conrad's letter). Saturn, according to Cicero, was associated with the concept of time, something that Sebald returns to repeatedly and, during the medieval period, gave rise to the epithet 'saturnine' or melancholy, certainly the prime emotion which suffuses this text. What at first appears to be a meandering, discursive journey, is actually more artfully composed.

The number of people who are exiles is striking, from Ovid (whose Metamorphoses is another text that plays on the edge between fragmentation and unity) via the Huguenots displaced from France to East Anglia following the repeal of the Edict of Nantes, to Chateaubriand, Joseph Conrad, and refugees from Nazi Germany.

It's the latter, of course, which haunts this book, though often in subtle almost subliminal fashion: there are portrayals of industrialised ruins that seem to shimmer into the death camps and then away again, and accounts of sericulture (silk farming) that 'include extermination to preempt racial degeneration' and in which the caterpillars are killed not 'in a hot oven'. It's only in the final chapter, too, that we learn that 'an old master dyer by the name of Seybolt' was Keeper of the Silkworms in 1822 and that silk farming was revived by Hitler's regime in an attempt to both make Germany self-sufficient and with one eye on re-armament. It's fitting that Thomas Browne, who both opens and closes this narrative, was the son of a silk merchant. The pieces fit together, and look back at the section on China, more smoothly than we first thought.

Sebald's prose manages to be both deceptively simple (no elaborate similes and metaphors here) and wonderfully dense - time is flexed so that past, present and a possible future interpenetrate each other. The narrative 'I' is similarly complex and multiple: not just does it represent Sebald-the-author and Sebald-the-narrator but, due to the elision of quotation marks, also morphs into other speakers who are not just quoted in the text but temporarily take over as narrators.

I've seen reviews that ponder whether this is fiction or non-fiction, how it might be placed by genre - but for me those are needless questions whose answers add nothing to the experience of reading this book. Genre is itself merely a fluctuating series of historically-inflected conditions (think of the way 'romance' was once applied to, say, Don Quixote or the novels of Alexandre Dumas versus what it means in today's literary market), and can be kicked against as much as conformed to in books that situate themselves within its contours. For contemporary readers accustomed to the auto-fiction of Rachel Cusk or Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Sebald's stance should seem familiar - though this narrative hybridity was perhaps more notable in 1995 when this was first published.

So, overall, this is an artful and very carefully composed text that captures a sense of both movement and stasis - for all the progress that is captured in the stories that are told, the over-riding memory that remains is that of decay and ruination.
Profile Image for Flo.
217 reviews29 followers
January 9, 2023
Is this book fiction?

In a way, you can say that W.G. Sebald is the greatest nonfiction writer of all time. His work is so genre-defying, the reality is so in your face, in real(?) images, the places have known names, that somehow the prose cant be less real. The feelings, the ideas are too strong to be denied.

This is my second book from Sebald after Austerlitz. As a reading experience, I prefer Austerlitz, because it had more plot. But, I think I appreciate this one more for how it managed to keep the narrative together. Clearly, Sebald is one of my favourite writers. I'm curious where my next journey with him will bring me.
Profile Image for  amapola.
282 reviews32 followers
September 8, 2018
La realtà parla

Un libro strano, difficile, faticoso e bellissimo: non solo parole, pensieri, riflessioni ma, per tenerci ancorati alla realtà, anche fotografie a formare un tutt’uno col testo. Sebald cammina, si guarda intorno, osserva, e ogni cosa su cui posa lo sguardo diventa spunto narrativo, colore, profumo, memoria, malinconia… la realtà prende vita sotto il suo sguardo, parla, si svela dentro una miriade di storie diverse, le più disparate e insolite, narrate minuziosamente o appena abbozzate.
Temevo Sebald, ma sbagliavo. Dopo Walser ecco che ho trovato un altro “wanderer”, un compagno di cammino.


Profile Image for Argos.
982 reviews284 followers
May 14, 2021
Yazarımız 1992 Ağustosu’nda İngiltere’nin güney-doğusunda, Kuzey Denizi kıyılarındaki Suffolk’un uçsuz bucaksız düzlüklerinde günlerce süren yürüyüşe çıkar. Southwold, Walberswick, Halesworth, Dunwich, Norfolk, Suffolk, Orford gibi birbirine yakın eski-yeni köy ve kasabalarını gezen (tavaf eden dersek daha iyi olur) Sebald, bu yürüyüşte gördüklerini veya gördüklerinin çağrıştırdıklarını bir yıl sonra hastalanıp hastaneye yattığı sırada kurgulamaya başlar. 1995’de de kitap basılır.

“Satürn’ün Halkaları” için modern çağın Binbirgece Masalları diyebiliriz. Kelebek misali bir masaldan öbür masala uçuluyor. Onlarca farklı hikaye, okunurken şiirsel ve yumuşak, okunduktan sonra ise demir gibi sert mesajı olan cümleleriyle 10 ana başlıkta toplanarak anlatılmış. Aralara yazarın seçimiyle konulan fotoğraflar ile okuyucu kitabın içine davet ediliyor. Bazıları gerçek bazıları düş olan anlatılarda geçmiş ile bugün, karşılıklı tutulan ayna görüntüleri gibi iç içe geçiyor, üst üste biniyor. Ya da eskiden gezegenin çok yakınlarında bulunan ve etkisinde kaldığı gelgit nedeniyle yok olan bir uydunun parçaları olan Satürn halkalarına dönüyor.

Neler yok ki bu masallarda; Avrupa’nın iki yüzünün İngiltere, Belçika, Hollanda örnekleriyle sömürgeciliğin ve emperyalist amaçlarının anlatılması, 1933’de Nazilerin saltanatı başladığında, 15-16 yaşlarında ülkesinden, yaşadığı şehir Berlin’den ailesi ile birlikte İngiltere’ye sürgün gelen yazar Michael Hamburger’in trajik hikayesi, Hollanda kentlere yatırım yaparken taşraya yatırım yapan İngiltere’nin ticari yanılgısı, yazar Edward FitzGerald’ın İranlı şair Ömer Hayyam’ın rubailerinin muhteşem İngilizce çevirisinin Şark dünyası ile Garp dünyasının, tahminlerin aksine nasıl buluşabildiğini göstermesi, kölelik ve köle siyaseti, İrlanda sorunu, bölgedeki 16 Ekim 1987 fırtınası ilk anda aklıma gelenler oldu. Gustav Flaubert de var, Chateaubriand da var bu çağdaş 1001 Gece Masalları’nda.

Lovestoft’ta bulunan Joseph Conrad’a da anlatılarında yer veren yazar, Condrad’ın babasının cenaze törenini olağanüstü güzel anlatmaktadır. İpek tüccarının oğlu olan 17. yüzyıl ortalarında yaşamış edebiyatçı, doğa bilimcisi ve hekim olan Thomas Browne’ın kafatasından yola çıkıp onun hayali müzesi “Musaeum Clausum” kitabına giden öyküsünün yanında, hem ipekböcekçiliğinde hem de Rembrandt’ın “Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’un Anatomi Dersi” adlı tablosunda karşımıza tekrar tekrar çıkıyor T. Browne. Ringa balıkçılığı, I. Dünya Savaşı fotoğrafları, II.Dünya Savaşı’ndaki toplama kampları ve Hırvat’ların nazi işbirlikçiliği ve burada sayamayacağım nice farklı konu, yaşanmışlıklarıyla, düşleriyle Sebald’ın kalemine can vermişler.

Bu masalları anlatmasının nedeni bence gerçek olmayan üzerinden zamanla yeni bir gerçeklik yaratılıp yaratılmadığını sorguluyor olmasıdır. Geçmişi hatırlayarak geleceğe bakmak da söz konusudur. “Düşünecek olursak, tüm bu anlatılanların ardında, bizlerin insan olarak hastalıklı aklımızın acısını daha aşağı gördüğümüz, dolayısıyla imha edilebilir olduğunu sandığımız başka bir türe yüklemeye ihtiyaç duyduğumuz düşüncesi yatmıyor mu aslında?” diye soruyor yazar. Okuduktan sonra bu soru çok daha anlam kazandı bende. Farklı bir okuma, roman tanımına yeni bir açılım getirebilecek, keyifli, şaşırtıcı, ufuk açıcı, bilgilendirici, düşündürücü bir yolculuk, özgün bir yolculuk, roman yolculuğu “Satürn Halkaları”.

Sebald’dan okuduğum bu dördüncü kitap (Vertigo, Hava Savaşı ve Edebiyat, Kır Evinde İkamet) bence en iyisi. Lütfen okuyun.

Not: kitabı bulmak çok zor, satışta değil Nadir Kitap’tan alınabilir. Can Yayınları yeni baskı yapmazsa gerçekten yazık olur,
Profile Image for Kaggelo.
35 reviews41 followers
September 25, 2019
Ένα βιβλίο που δύσκολα μπορεί να καταταχθεί σε κάποια συγκεκριμένη κατηγορία. Ένα οδοιπορικό στην σύγχρονη νοτιοανατολική Αγγλία όπου η κάθε περιοχή, το κάθε ακρωτήριο, η κάθε πόλη και η κάθε έπαυλη κρύβει μια ιστορία από το παρελθόν την οποία ο Sebald ξετυλίγει αριστοτεχνικά με μια γήινη, απαλή και ζεστή γραφή που μαλακώνει την ψυχή.
Ο χρόνος είναι ο βασικός πρωταγωνιστής που στο πέρασμά του μεταμορφώνει τα πάντα, άλλοτε εξυψώνοντάς τα και άλλοτε βυθίζοντάς τα στην παρακμή, στην εγκατάλειψη κα�� στον θάνατο. Η κάθε ιστορία είναι ένα ταξίδι στον χρόνο αλλά και στον χώρο όπου μεταφερόμαστε από την Αγγλία σε άλλες ευρωπαϊκές χώρες και μέχρι την μακρινή Κίνα και το Κονγκό του 19ου αιώνα.
Μελαγχολία, νοσταλγία, ματαίωση προσδοκιών, το εφήμερο και προσωρινό στοιχείο της ζωής, οι αντιφάσεις της ανθρώπινης φύσης όπου η δημιουργία και ο εξευγενισμός συμβαδίζουν με την καταστροφή και αγριότητα, όλα διαπερνούν ολόκληρο το έργο μαζί με τις ολοζώντανες και εκπληκτικής ομορφιάς περιγραφές της φύσης και των φυσικών φαινομένων. Υπάρχουν κι αρκετές άμεσες και έμμεσες αναφορές σε έργα άλλων μεγάλων συγγραφέων απ' όπου φαίνεται ότι έχει επηρεαστεί ο Sebald, στους οποίους μάλιστα δίνει και πρωταγωνιστικό ρόλο σε κάποιες από τις ιστορίες του.
Είναι το τρίτο βιβλίο του Sebald που διαβάζω και συνειδητοποιώ ότι πρόκειται για έναν πολύ μεγάλο και μάλλον παραγνωρισμένο συγγραφέα μ' ένα μοναδικό και απόλυτα δικό του στιλ γραφής, ο οποίος θα μπορούσε να μας δώσει πολλά ακόμα αν δεν έφευγε τόσο πρόωρα και άδικα από αυτοκινητιστικό δυστύχημα.
Profile Image for Eric.
567 reviews952 followers
June 23, 2019
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 landscape. I know now to apply “Sebaldian” to a jaunt I made last month. One Sunday, thinking we had little else to do, my girlfriend and I drove two hours to a town we saw profiled in a boosting local glossy. The magazine had the usual montage of professionally flattering, almost stock, images of the charming diversions awaiting us (a bike path, a tea room; no local brewery though - a bearded hipster in Red Wings, thrusting a growler at the camera, would have completed the montage), but I was really excited by mentions of the town’s dead and preserved stuff, its ideas of the vestigial and the relinquished. The article noted that Litchfield, Minnesota, had been dubbed “the Queen of the Prairies—No Drone in Her Hive, and Every Inhabitant Full of Work and Public Spirit” — a nice sample of the grandiloquence lavished on those little farming and commercial hubs nineteenth century Americans were so proud to have raised, quickly and in a seeming desert, and then linked together with the iron rails on which Progress was grooved to run. The article also mentioned an opera house dating from Litchfield's flush heyday, now being halfheartedly restored, and the meeting hall, now a museum, built by the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic, that once-vast fraternity of Union veterans. The post was probably an essential civic bond for the area’s early, rootless residents, all of them homesteaders from somewhere else.

The post building was stout, turreted, chessman-like structure. Inside there was rack after rack of old rifles, a bust of Grant a local grocer awarded to a woman who had collected fifty ABC soap wrappers in 1890, and a dinner service embellished with the faces of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, the three assassinated Republican presidents. Covering one wall were large portraits of the post members. It was a prosperous, padded, stolid-looking set of farmers and merchants, though stuck into the corners of a few of the frames were small spotty ambrotypes, taken during the war, of the beardless rawboned teenagers, scowling and clutching rifles, that some of the men had been. The biographies were short and perfunctory, but here and there afforded glimpses of eventful lives. One man was born during an Atlantic crossing, to German immigrant parents. The ship foundered off Long Island, the parents drowned but their infant was miraculously saved, and ostentatiously adopted by a wealthy New Yorker. When just a boy he ran away, to Ohio as a hired farmhand, then to the Union army, and then further west to this homestead. One of the post members was black. Most G.A.R. posts were segregated, but the founder of Litchfield’s was a radical editor who had commanded a black regiment at the Battle of Nashville, and he welcomed a black veteran by the name of Van Spence, born a slave in Kentucky. Spence was the town’s lamplighter. He would regale the post meetings with spirituals, accompanied by his daughter on an upright piano that still sat up on the stage. He also oversaw the town’s July 4th barbeque, and in preparation would travel back to Kentucky and to West Virginia for possum, which he seems to have made popular. The museum had a picture of Spence’s son with the high school football team. He wasn’t allowed to play, but served as mascot. Looking at the picture I was unable to make out just what animal, if any, the boy’s costume was supposed to represent. He wore a colorful motley. I hoped he wasn’t simply “our darkie.”

The photographer of the veterans, a post member himself, enjoyed a local renown, and captured the town in the twilight of the nineteenth century. The museum attached to the hall displayed albums of his work. Richly-ringleted, lace-collared little Lord Fauntleroys, cradling spaniel puppies. Family portraits in which the ornately carved chairs and Corinthian pedestals and busy arboreal backdrops seem a kind of forgetful buffer against the windy plains and spectral Sioux. Two of the albums were all that remained of a lakeside resort that flourished a few summers beside a nearby lake, and then went bankrupt in the depression of 1893. Sebald’s spooky inset photo of fishermen posed knee-deep in one of Lowestoft’s fabled herring catches reminded me of these contemporaneous albums, in which a party of young men, grinning under rakishly tilted bowlers, lounge in one of the hired gigs that circuited the grounds; and two girls, already in massive bustled skirts, stroll a lakeside path, heads tilted toward the other, arms around cinched waists.

The museum was hardly to be distinguished from the antique shop down the street — from the antique shops in so many Midwestern towns. It was the same slightly chaotic, slightly morbid display of only recently defunct households. And it presented all the things I usually adore, when I visit my grandmother in rural Iowa and rummage the shops with her: the old uniforms, and the various trophies yanked from German corpses in the two world wars; also and especially, reminders of middle class cultural aspiration like cheap copper busts of Beethoven and Shakespeare, and sheet music, especially four-hand reductions of famous symphonies and operas, to play beside your mother on the parlor upright, when distant neighbors visit (Sviatoslav Richter emerged from rural Ukraine after a youth of parlor piano Wagner and free peasant concerts -- what a combination of the bourgeois and the revolutionary orders! -- and the professors at the Moscow Conservatory sighed that they had nothing to teach him) ; oh, and the books! those anonymously translated encyclopedic sets of the World Classics of Literature…Turgenev and Maupassant and Hugo and everybody else in cheap-looking but self-evidently durable editions ordered from the Sears-Roebuck catalog or bought on subscription from that traveling salesman who smiled so patiently while you wiped your hands on your apron before signing and who was also offering a deluxe edition of President Grant’s Personal Memoirs illustrated with back number engravings from Harper’s Weekly.

So, The Rings of Saturn. I loved this novel (anatomy? travelogue? memoir? dream? nightmare?). I loved it so much that at times I thought it a drug designed for just for me. I loved it so much that I’m content to bask in the memory of it—am in no special haste to get copies of The Emigrants or On the Natural History of Destruction. This book is unusually fortunate to have a cover blurb that perfectly describes the narrative’s eerie and unpredictable apparition of specters. “Stunning and strange…like a dream you want to last forever.” Yep.

Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,221 followers
June 29, 2021
În 1995, cînd a apărut eseul narativ Inelele lui Saturn, în originalul lui cît se poate de nemțesc*, exegeții au pretins că nu-i pot atribui un gen literar precis. Ar fi o lucrare prea ciudată. În această privință au avut dreptate.

S-a vorbit de un roman hibrid, de autobiografie, de autoficțiune, de note de călătorie, de „ficțiune documentară” (expresia aparține chiar scriitorului) etc. Roman nu are cum fi, nici măcar hibrid, nici măcar în linia lui Laurence Sterne. Scrierea aparține unui melancolic (Saturn e steaua melancoliei), în timp ce Sterne este mereu și mereu vioi, face haz de orice și nu ia în seamă nimicnicia din jur. Nu merită să-i dai atenție: viața e cel mai stupid lucru cu putință.

Depresivii nu au proiecte, ei privesc doar spre trecut. Așa procedează și naratorul din Inelele lui Saturn. Pornește într-un soi de peregrinare prin estul Angliei, pe țărmul erodat al Mării Nordului, în comitatele Norfolk și Suffolk, și vizitează așezări pline de istorie, dar fără prezent, biserici, clădiri dezafectate, castele în ruină, parcuri părăsite, vechi faruri devenite săli de lectură și muzee, cimitire. Drumeția are loc în august 1992. Peste un an, povestitorul începe s-o consemneze. Termină în data de 13 aprilie 1995.

Călătoria e, așadar, doar un pretext pentru reverie.

Aș mai menționa că textul lui Sebald este întrerupt de numeroase fotografii greu descifrabile (așa e și în original, din cîte am văzut), de tăieturi din ziare, de hărți etc. E greu de găsit o unitate în Inelele lui Saturn, principiul narativ este asociația aproape liberă de idei, digresiunea. Cred că este singurul lucru care evocă obiceiurile lui Sterne: „Stînd acum să mă mai gîndesc, îmi vine în minte faptul că pe vremuri...” (p.300).

* Un critic literar de la noi, foarte productiv și foarte erudit, l-a prezentat nu de mult pe Sebald ca pe un „prozator englez de origine germană” :)
Profile Image for Nora Barnacle.
163 reviews96 followers
January 15, 2019
Kad bih ja bila neka važna ličnost za kosmička pitanja i kad bi se od mene tražilo da odaberem nešto po čemu će gospoda Svemirci najbolje i najtačnije razumeti šta na ljudskom jeziku znači biti pisac, ja bih, shodno ozbiljnosti zadatka, potisnula svu silinu svojih emocija prema Džojsu, Selinu i Muzilu, i lepo im zapakovala Zebaldove "Saturnove prstenove".

Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
July 18, 2018
In the end I was overcome by a feeling of panic. The low, leaden sky; the sickly violet hue of the heath clouding the eye; the silence, which rushed in the ears like the sound of the sea in a shell; the flies buzzing about me – all this became oppressive and unnerving.

… the signpost left by the author says Dunwich heath

A travelogue? Perhaps. We read of the narrator's perambulations around, through, along – but also simply ruminating on – places to be found mostly in Suffolk, the English county in that bumpy part sticking out on the east coast, up north of the Thames outlet. Finally terminating in Norfolk, of all places – just north of Suffolk, still on that bumpy part but with coast running both S/N and E/W. Places like Lowestoft, Dunwich, Middleton, Bredfield, then Ditchingham, Norwich. Sounds exciting. Not.

Something of a travelogue then. And so in some sense a memoir of the narrator. But is it simply fact? Is there fiction too? Said to be a novel. Surely a novel must have some fiction in it? So a partly fictional memoir, partly fictional travelogue. I have no shelf for the book.

And what about the rings of Saturn. Were they visited too? No, only mentioned, once, prior to the Contents. Said to consist of ice crystals and meteorite particles orbiting around the planet's equator.

Huge chunks (much more than particles) of narrative about stuff certainly not encountered in that bumpy part of England. More likely encountered in the traveler's mind/memory. Sometimes we know why that would be, mostly not.

The strange journey begins
In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work. And in fact my hope was realized, up to a point; for I have seldom felt so carefree as I did then, walking for hours in the day through the thinly populated countryside, which stretches inland from the coast . I wonder now, however, whether there might be something in the old superstition that certain ailments of the spirit and of the body are particularly likely to beset us under the sign of the Dog Star. At all events, in retrospect I became preoccupied mot only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had come over me at various times when confronted with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past, that were evident even in that remote place. Perhaps it was because of this that, a year to the day after I began my tour, I was taken into hospital in Norwich in a state of almost total immobility. It was then that I began in my thoughts to write these pages. I can remember precisely how, upon being admitted to that room on the eighth floor, I became 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. Indeed, all that could be seen of the world from my bed was the colourless patch of sky framed in the window.


The first (of scores) of the bleak, grainy, black and white photos which accompany the narrative. We might expect a travelogue to employ illustrative images of course. But of this sort? Depicting neither place nor architectural wonder, but a mere patch of sky?

On the next page our narrator is found comparing himself to "poor Gregor Samsa", that Gregor Samsa of a Kafka narrative (I know not which, perhaps you do?), viewing through the strange black netting covering the window "an utterly alien place", as if "I were looking down from a cliff upon a sea of stone or a field of rubble". And from here, we jump forward again, by more than a year, to recollection of one "Michael Parkinson" [not the so-named English broadcaster, we can easily ascertain, but another personage] who "without warning last May, … not seen for some days, was found dead in his bed, lying on his side and already quite rigid, his face curiously mottled with red blotches."

Last May? When exactly was that? I've lost track of the thread of time here. And before I can figure that out, carried on by the narrative, charging ahead [almost as if we were riding with Sterne] we hear next of one "Janine Dakyns", who judged Flaubert "by far the finest of writers", and who wrote that, "In a grain of sand in the hem of Emma Bovary's winter gown … Flaubert saw the whole of the Sahara."

Then Durer's Melancholia, Thomas Browne's skull, once kept in the museum of the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, and Browne's famous "part-archeological and part-metaphysical treatise Urn Burial [which I could read, but have not yet, in my Penguin Classics edition of Browne's Major Works, where it is introduced under the title Hydriotaphia and helpfully explicated with further brackets:
Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall, or, A Disocurse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk was first published jointly witth The Garden of Cyrus in 1658. See also the discussion above, pp. 38 ff.; and for further bibliographical details: below, p. 554.

Is that enough? Need I go on? What more could I say? More images? a longer list of the subjects, none really profound most would judge, which our narrator, presumably pictured below, with one of his own grainy photos [p. 264],


on the next page explaining, "The Lebanese cedar which I am leaning against, unaware still of the woeful events that were to come …", leaving us [rather you, who cannot reason based on the words left out by the enigmatic me] to wonder whether the unaware entity the tree or the person pictured … or perhaps both? or neither??

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews758 followers
November 20, 2010
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 listening to has turned into a play, the biography is now a news programme, Start the Week has segued into satire. In Austerlitz, there was a slightly more traditional type of narrative in the story of Jacques Austerlitz, but the Rings of Saturn is a journey, a physical journey along the coast of Suffolk, yes, but more a mental journey, the vagaries of the mind. And as the mind can leap from the state of one's body to the history of Roger Casement, from the weather to memories of a sojourn in Ireland, from thoughts on the architecture of Lowestoft to the cultural significance of the herring, so the narrative leaps and falls. Structure is an artifice: we, as human beings try to impose structure in order to make sense of the world, but the world as it pours in and floods us with sensory perceptions that trigger associations and memories defies all attempts to sift and order, resists the dictatorship of "and then and then and then" that would constitute a story. One connecting theme does seem to be the question of the painstaking work of living, the passing of the hours and days.
Profile Image for Nickolas the Kid.
301 reviews70 followers
October 22, 2021
Ανέκαθεν θαύμαζα τους πολυμαθείς συγγραφείς που παρ' όλη την ευρυμάθεια τους καταφέρνουν να μεταδώσουν στον αναγνώστη ένα μεγάλο μέρος του πλούτου των γνώσεων τους, χωρίς να τον κουράζουν και κυρίως χωρίς να φαίνεται πως κάνουν επίδειξη.
Ένας από αυτούς είναι και ο Μαξ Ζέμπαλντ. Ένας μάλλον παραγνωρισμένος συγγραφέας, ο οποίος μέσα από ένα οδοιπορικό στην ανατολική Αγγλία καταφέρνει να μας περάσει εικόνες και ιστορίες που νοσταλγικά μας θυμίζουν εποχές που χάθηκαν, σημαντικά κομμάτια της παγκόσμιας ιστορίας αλλά και να μας υπενθυμίσει πόσο πληγωμένο άφησαν τον κόσμο οι πόλεμοι και οι καταστροφές τους ανά τους αιώνες.
Οι ιστορίες του Ζέμπαλντ είναι απολαυστικές, περιεκτικές και αποπνέουν κάτι το μαγικό. Περιέχουν δε όλα εκείνα τα συστατικά που θα τις κάνουν οικείες στον αναγνώστη και με τον συνδυασμό γνώσεων και αφηγηματικής δεινότητας που διακρίνουν το Γερμανό συγγραφέα μετατρέπουν το βιβλίο σε μια μοναδική αναγνωστική εμπειρία.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,160 reviews1,920 followers
November 29, 2021
This is allegedly a novel (it doesn’t feel like it). It has a first person narrator and it an account of and reflections on a walking tour in East Anglia (mainly Suffolk): from Lowestoft to Ditchingham. It describes places and people along the way, mainly people living in fairly large country houses! There are lots of tangents with passages on silkworm rearing and its history (there is a history of it in East Anglia), the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, the history of herring fishing in the North Sea, colonialism in the Congo with Conrad and Casement prominent, the description of a dissection viewed by Browne and Rembrandt, forays in Chateaubriand, Swinburne and Morton Peto follow. It does look at our relationship with the environment and makes a few pertinent points:
“Our spread over the earth was fuelled by reducing the higher species of vegetation to charcoal, by incessantly burning whatever would burn. Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers.”
There is a general feel of desolation and decline with reflections on the effects of Dutch Elm disease. One of Sebald’s own friends Michael Hamburger also makes and appearance. The narrative feels restless and Sebald often writes in sentences that are lengthy and discursive. His descriptions of Browne’s sentences mirror his own:
“In common with other English writers of the seventeenth century, Browne wrote out of the fullness of his erudition, deploying a vast repertoire of quotations and the names of authorities who had gone before, creating complex metaphors and analogies, and constructing labyrinthine sentences that sometimes extend over one or two pages, sentences that resemble processions or a funeral cortege in their sheer ceremonial lavishness. It is true that, because of the immense weight of the impediments he is carrying, Browne’s writing can be held back by the force of gravitation, but when he does succeed in rising higher and higher through the circles of his spiralling prose, borne aloft like a glider on warm currents of air, even today the reader is overcome by a sense of levitation.”
Alan Bennett’s general point about Sebald resonates as well:
“I persevere with Sebald but the contrivance of it, particularly his un-peopling of the landscape, never fails to irritate. ‘It was already afternoon, six in the evening when I reached the outskirts of Lowestoft. Not a living soul was about in the long streets.’ . . . The fact is, in Sebald nobody is ever about. This may be poetic but it seems to me a short cut to significance.”
In themselves some of the observations and reflections are interesting despite (or because of) their melancholy. I now know a bit about herring fishing and Sir Thomas Browne, amongst other things! Will I persevere with Sebald? Not sure, but I won’t be in that much of a hurry to do so.
Profile Image for sigurd.
205 reviews40 followers
September 10, 2018
I romanzi di W.G.Sebald assomigliano a quella scena di “Madame Bovary”, in cui Emma e il suo amante vengono scarrozzati per la città, dopo aver tirato rigorosamente le tendine davanti alla loro intimità, da un cocchiere stanco e sudato a cui è stato ordinato di procedere senza direzione, e che non sa dove andare, ed è smarrito di fronte a quella insolenza. La letteratura di Sebald procede al ritmo di una carrozza reticente in cui si consumano forse passioni sfrenate, e noi, cocchieri spaesati, e un po’ stanchi a volte, talvolta incuriositi di quel che all’interno accade, non riusciamo a capire dove tutto questo peregrinare ci porterà e se mai avrà una ricompensa. Arriviamo alla fine del viaggio, ammesso che i viaggi abbiano un termine, con un pizzico di rimorso, come avviene sempre: quello di non essersi goduti il panorama, proiettati verso quel futuro insolente e tiranno delle nostre vite. Ma per Sebald il «fiume dell’ore», come succede per Unamuno, procede dalla «fonte dell’eterno domani», si spinge verso il passato. La navigazione è quella di Wells; il suo stazionare tra resti antichi, fortezze e bastioni, tra lande nebbiose e paesaggi lacustri, tra vite dimenticate anche se illustri, libri logori, in questo mausoleo di resti e memorie, che appaiono così lontani da noi nello spazio-tempo, è come il viaggio in carrozza di Flaubert, un prendersi una pausa rinfrancante, financo inammissibile nell’estuario inquieto e veloce della vita, una messa a fuoco di quello spettro che si aggira nell’arte e che è lo spettro dell’indeterminazione, è ammettere la possibilità che quelle cose dimenticate e per i più inutili perseguano «un palpabile progetto nei nostri confronti» (the palpable design upon us, come direbbe Keats), ci vogliano sorprendere con le loro alleanze segrete, con le loro rivelazioni inopportune.
Ci sono corde che continuano a vibrare, come diceva Dante, anche dopo che le frecce hanno centrato il bersaglio (la saetta che nel segno /percuote pria che sia la corda queta). Così sono certi libri. Così è “Gli anelli di Saturno” di W.G.Sebald.
Profile Image for Ratko.
215 reviews56 followers
September 9, 2021
Какво је ово ремек-дело!
Немам адекватних речи којим бих довољно могао да нахвалим ову књигу. Зебалд се њоме свакако уврстио међу моје омиљене писце.

"Сатурнови прстенови" су једна меланхолична шетња опустелим и суморним источноенглеским пределима. Али, током тог ходочашћа, писац шета и кроз време и простор, шета по сопственим мислима и сновима. Зебалд је мајстор приче и врхунски ерудита; са лакоћом мешајући стварност и фикцију, историјске податке и личности, зани��љивости са наизглед неважним детаљима и парчићима историје, цртице из света флоре и фауне, он тка читав један савршени свемир. Нешто као Умберто Еко, али Зебалд то ради.... господственије - и без повлачења читаоца за нос.
Једва чекам да се упустим и у остале Зебалдове преведене књиге.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews625 followers
May 16, 2022
A few weeks ago, I made a decision. It was time, I thought, that I filled in some of what I perceive to be the many gaps in my reading. So I bought a copy of The Rings of Saturn because I have never read Sebald but have wanted to for a long time.

I have no idea how to review this book.

One of the reasons I have no idea is elucidated in a review at literaryreview.co.uk:

”You can learn a lot on a walk around Suffolk.

For instance, consider the slender iron bridge that crosses the River Blyth between Walberswick and Southwold. It was constructed in 1875 for a narrow gauge rail link between Southwold and Halesworth, and the train that ran on it is said to have been built for the Emperor of China – the imperial heraldic dragon could be made out under the carriages’ black paintwork. Want to know which Emperor of China? Kuang-hsu, actually, a child emperor who was keen on modern machinery but whose reformist political inclinations led the Dowager Empress Tz’uhsi (who died, by the. way, after a double helping of her favourite pudding, crab apples and clotted cream) to send him into exile. Tz’uhsi, incidentally, was a contemporary of Swinburne, who, in the 1870s, found plenty to be melancholy about in the haunting, sea-engulfed town of Dunwich, which was one of the most important ports in Europe during the Middle Ages and lies a taxing hike south of Walberswick. Diminutive Swinburne had a very big head: when he went to Eton in the summer of 1849, his was the largest hat in the school.

That’s the sort of crazy stuff with which this fascinating book is crammed.

Firstly, that might explain my struggle to review the book. Because “crammed” is a bit of an understatement, actually. Secondly, how can you not want to read a book like that?

So, yes, on one level, a man takes a walk around Suffolk and takes a lot of mental digressions as he does so. Psychogeography.

But, if ever a book required more than one reading, this would be that book. All the way through there are hints of deeper layers and hints that those deeper layers will hint at deeper layers still.

You can read a lot of stuff about this book on the internet, so I’m not going to try to write about it. I’ll just put on record that it’s one of the most amazing books I have read. And I’ll leave it at that. Until I read it again.
Profile Image for Pavle.
409 reviews142 followers
September 12, 2020
Već neko vreme pokušavam da se odgurnem dalje od književnosti engleskog govornog područja (koju obično čitam u originalu, dakle srpski u poslednjih godinu dve najčešće vidim na kioscima u svoj svojoj ŠOKANTNOJ elokventnosti) i vratim se – ili pak po prvi put zaista smisleno posetim – kontinentalno-evropsku književnost. I na preporuku, uzeh se tako Zebalda za kojeg – evo, priznajem – prethodno nisam ni čuo.

Kako se nalazim u nešto boljem periodu što se tiče čitanja u poslednjih dve tri nedelje, Saturnovi prstenovi su tekli relativno brzo. I tako dodjoh do današnjeg jutra i poslednjeg preostalog poglavlja. (Knjige obično volim da završavam na nekom atipičnijem mestu u nadi da ću malo bolje zapamtiti pročitano, no to je i dalje nepotvrdjena hipoteza.) U razgovoru sa cimerom koji me je zatekao na izlaznim vratima u osam izjutra na sveti studentski sabat, na brzaka objasnih šta čitam, prepričah poglavlje o Vojadžeru i zlatnom disku genocidnog glasnogovornika, na šta je on bio ’u jebote, a što ne čitaš nešto malo srećnije?’. Moj odgovor je bio da i nije tako strašno i da se nadam da će ovo poslednje poglavlje uz jutarnju kafu proteći sasvim ok.


Kao i u manje više svakom prethodnom poglavlju, Zebald iz mikroprimera ljudske istorije, neretko toliko uveličane da se može videti i najobičniji, najnebitniji detalj, izvodi zaključke o našoj nakaradnosti i napaćenosti. Tako i poslednje poglavlje uzima čarobnost svilenih buba i njihovu ulogu u Evropi, pa (naravno) i u nacističkoj Nemačkoj, i pretvara je u ispitivanje izvanredno ingenioznih načina tamanjenja tih neobičnih buba od strane nemačkih zanatlija u zahuktavanju za drugi svetski rat.

Vratih se ja tako u sobu, cimer pita kako je prošlo, ja slegnem ramenima i kažem ’jebiga’ (engl. well, fuck). Udjem u sobu, gledam malo u zid, i pitam se zašto sam odjednom tako loše raspoložen.

Ali poenta je (zapravo) sledeća: uprkos mraku kojim Zebald barata vešto i nesentimentalno potentno, ovde ima mnogo toga osim ’buhu baš smo govna’ (opterećenost tom frazom bez mogućnosti iskupljenja je nešto što me iritira kod savremenog sveta). Kroz svoj poetsko novinarski, istoriografski i taksativni stil, Zebald, koristeći se opsesivnim beleženjem svega na šta naidjemo, malih i glupih zdelica iz praistorije koje govore više od Tutankamonove grobnice, ipak uspeva da dodje do nekakvog čudnog efekta rasterećenja malog čoveka od tereta kolektivnog greha koji ga opterećuje. Iako smo sasvim sigurno izgubljeni u entropičnim ruinama savremenog sveta, makar smo izgubljeni na jednom mestu čiju lepotu ni kosa saturnovih prstenova ne može zaista da poseče.

Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
687 reviews567 followers
May 24, 2022
52nd book of 2022.

2nd reading. 4.5. I first read on a university non-fiction module, specifically looking at the blurred lines between fact and fiction. The primary question of the module was simple: Should there be a distinction between fact and fiction? Reading Sebald, we quickly realised, perhaps not. The name was familiar to me but back then I’d never read him. I’ve now read all his novels, some of his poetry, and his biography and consider him one of my favourite writers and I dare say, one of the most important writers of the last 50+ years. Dr S.J., the professor of my old module, was a cold woman with a barely perceptible (but undeniable) sense of humour who reminded me, strangely enough, in some ways, of W.G. Sebald himself. In a kind of German fashion, she would cross entire paragraphs of my work out with no remorse and never shied from looking at you steadily in the eyes. At one point several students filed a report on her for being “too harsh”/“unfair”/“cruel” and it was taken up by higher members of the university and a meeting took place, like a trial. My roommate at the time was the spokesperson for our course (so had to attend the ‘trial’) and asked if I would speak in her defence, if it came to it. I told him I would happily do so. The evening after the trial my roommate and I had dinner and he reported that nothing came of it in the end. There had been some tension between professors but Dr J. escaped the situation unscathed by the accusations. When I finished my BA and was in the process of my Master's degree (and no longer being taught by her) she sent me an email asking if The Rings of Saturn should stay on the reading list for her module. She asked me, she said, because she remembered I was the only person in the lecture who had bothered to read the entire text, and enjoyed it. I said, Perhaps not, and instead suggested Vertigo or even The Emigrants, because The Rings of Saturn, I think, is a tricky Sebald starting place.

The first time I read this book I was baffled, frustrated but equally in awe. I'd never read anything like it, which was the case for a lot of people. Publishers apparently hated Sebald's books as much as they loved them because they couldn't decide where to shelve him. I have never been much of a re-reader but recently I discovered the beauty of it. My reading is almost entirely critical past a first reading, and I am learning far more about the books (and the craft itself); and yet, reading Sebald critically is still far more difficult than many other writers. For one, there are certain questions that simply cannot be answered: How is the prose so seductive/entrancing? How, even when talking about historical atrocities, is there that wry, sly, subtle humour just under the surface of every line? How does the structure of the novel work, how does he entwine all these thoughts into a working and coherent narrative? And speaking of narrative, what is Sebald’s narrative here? Like Pynchon’s parabola, it’s quite clear that Sebald’s structure is quite simply the rings of Saturn: he has exploded the connection between memory and time with the circular rings of the planet.


On my second reading I am still baffled, even more in awe and find Sebald upsettingly good. The final paragraph of this book just reverberates outwards. The whole thing is a dizzying, circular narrative about death, loneliness, time, memory, sickness and sanity. You can't really 'spoil' the book, as there is no real 'plot' per se, but I will be talking about elements from throughout the novel. As in The Emigrants, the narrator's wife is called Clara, and is, no doubt, in some ways, Sebald's own wife, Ute. Near the end of the book Sebald writes that on the day he is finishing the last few pages, it is also the day, years ago, that Clara's father died. I thought nothing of this on my first reading but on my second reading it has me wondering if this is Sebald's outlet for that death. There is so much death and sickness in this book; it even starts with the narrator's own illness, being the reason of his long walk. Having recently read another Thomas Bernhard book, a writer Sebald greatly admired, I saw it there too: throughout Bernhard's novels are flippant remarks about insanity, illness, death, suicide. It's the same with Sebald. And yet, as I said before, it always seems so mocking and yet so sincere at the same time. Even the photographs appear to be mocking: the narrator talks about a solitary quail bird and yet the photograph clearly shows two birds; later, he describes the streets he is walking as being deserted, like a ghost-town, and yet in the accompanying photograph, there is a couple standing to the right of the foreground. Having read Angier's biography, I have read about the 'lies' Sebald told throughout his life and how much he twisted the truth to fit his narratives. He moved dates around so they made nice connections, he changed key facts about real people he knew, making someone Jewish just to fit into The Emigrants narrative, he lied about the famous photograph of the boy on the front of Austerlitz. It's like we can take nothing he says seriously but at the same time, it must be taken seriously.
- As I sat there that evening in Southwold overlooking the German Ocean, I sensed quite clearly the earth's slow turning into the dark. The huntsmen are up in America, writes Thomas Browne in 'The Garden of Cyrus', and they are already past their first sleep in Persia. The shadow of night is drawn like a black veil across the earth, and since almost all creatures, from one meridian to the next, lie down after the sun has set, so, he continues, one might in following the setting sun, see on our globe nothing but our prone bodies, row upon row, as if levelled by the scythe of Saturn - an endless graveyard for a humanity struck by falling sickness.

A book that even now cannot be placed in any particular genre or space. Fiction? Non-fiction? Travelogue? History? Memoir? It does not matter. It is a book about the fleetingness of life and the recurring images and ideas of our existences. It is also, I think, a rumination and reflection on death. How Sebald entwines the amount of topics in this single book to this day astounds me, annoys me. He was masterful, and is one of the best prose writers I have read, whose paragraphs sometimes leave me stunned ('The moon was shining in at the window, and the light lay so strangely on the layer of wax left on the floor by more than a century of dripping candles that I felt as if I was adrift on a sea of quicksilver'). Powerful, majestic, sad.

Here now the sunshine from this morning has passed and been replaced with clouds and rain. As I got to the halfway point in this review, hail began to fall, great chunks of it, like splinters from an iceberg, onto the rooflights of my bedroom, almost causing me to wince and flinch with every fall. Somewhere, farther seaward, thunder began booming too. Then camera flashes through my dark early afternoon room. I am now going to close my computer and go downstairs, as if burrowing further, and more safely, into the ground.
Profile Image for Kansas.
557 reviews255 followers
July 13, 2022
"Como tantas otras veces en ciudades extrañas, es posible que haya ido por los caminos equivocados."

Esta reseña va a ser cortita, porque las palabras se quedan cortas ante este texto tan fuera del tiempo. Cuando empecé a leer esta obra, un texto que no sabía por qué, me imaginaba denso y farragoso, de pronto me dí cuenta que en nada de tiempo llevaba casi la mitad. Me asusté un poco, en el sentido de que lo estaba disfrutando tanto que ni me había enterado de que Sebald me estaba llevando en volandas por un paisaje fantasmagórico y sonámbulo, tal cual, repleto de personajes fantasmales pero lo que me asustó de alguna forma fue la fuerza de un autor que con su narrativa era capaz casi de hechizarme como si hubiera estado sumergida en un bucle…, así que volví a retomarla más pausadamente leyendo la primera mitad: las sensaciones eran las mismas pero claro, ahora ya fuí percibiendo lo que de verdad le interesaba a este autor: la historia ha dejado a su paso destrucción, exterminio, abandono, amores imposibles…, Sebald vaga por los lugares donde se sucedieron algunos hechos, resucita a sus personajes durante unos momentos para nosotros, para dejarlos descansar después.

"Durante un par de días erré en un estado cercano al sonambulismo por las interminables arterias principales de Charlottenburg..."

Tengo entendido que WG Sebald viajó a pie en 1992 por la costa de East Anglia, y de aquí salió este libro. Los lugares, los bosques, la gente que se encontró en su camino le llevaron a reconstruir historias del pasado. Esta historia del pasado que va rememorando convierten Los Anillos de Saturno en una experiencia alucinatoria: Thomas Browne, la emperatriz Cixi, Swinburne, Robert Casament, Edward Fitzgerald, Joseph Conrad o Chateaubriand son como fantasmas que vagan entre un mundo que ya no existe, sin embargo están más vivos que nunca gracias a un autor como Sebald cuya narrativa envolvente, y casi sonora, les hace cobrar vida.

"¿En qué espacio de tiempo transcurren las afinidades electivas y las correspondencias? ¿Cómo es que uno se ve a sí mismo en otra persona y cuando no es a sí mismo, ve entonces a su predecesor?"

Es una obra con la que si conectas, es muy fácil emocionarse por momentos inesperadamente impactantes e íntimos. Mientras que Sebald va vagando a pie por un paisaje que ya no es lo que era, donde incluso los árboles ya han sido exterminados o han muerto por el cansancio, se crea una atmósfera irreal con figuras que se difuminan. Esta obra de Sebald me ha remitido más que nunca a un cine sonámbulo como el de Resnais, Marguerite Duras o Chantal Ackerman.

Gracias por la recomendación, ya sabeís, de no ser por vosotros, nunca habría llegado a Sebald ;-)

La traducción es de Carmen Gómez Garcia y Georg Pichler, impecable.

"¡Qué mísera es nuestra vida! Está tan colmada de fantasías erróneas, es tan vana, que casi se reduce a las sombras de las quimeras que nuestra memoria deja en libertad."

✷✷ (Música de fondo: Ekkstacy: I walk this earth all by myself, ...)

Profile Image for Edward.
417 reviews392 followers
November 25, 2019
I haven't read any of Sebald's novels. In fact that's what I had thought I was doing by picking up The Rings of Saturn, which Goodreads has incorrectly categorised as "fiction". The book is in fact a sort of digressional memoir and travel journal, whose meanderings include accounts of history, nature, art and literature, as well as the occasional smattering of philosophy. The subjects reach far and wide geographically and thematically, and range from the mundane to the utterly fascinating (a result, I suppose of such diversity).

What I enjoyed about this book is Sebald's easy, circuitous prose style (you could almost call it a stream-of-consciousness, if it weren't so polished), which pulls each thread of memory and follows the chain of association to random, far-flung destinations. Reading The Rings of Saturn is the literary equivalent of going on a long, reflective walk.
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