In the summer of 1992 W. G. Sebald set off on a long walk along the Eastern coast of England, collecting his thoughts and impressions in this book. I spent time in the East of England and let's just say it's not exactly the most inspiring of landscapes - which makes this unique novel even more of a miracle. Each chapter radiates with Sebald's genius, humanity, and extraordinary ability to connect the most disparate themes - from silkworms to satellites to pearl-eating dragons. Each page interrogates the same mystery and uncovers the same truth: the horror, wonder, and terrible beauty of our world.
Though ostensibly a walking tour of the the grim, gray coastline of eastern England, this book is in fact a natural history of humanity, of the catalogue of catastrophes we call civilization. Recovering from an injury and recounting his long pilgrimage, the narrator leads us through a landscape and a mesh of meditations: from the ghost towns of industrial decline to the windblown heaths of ecological collapse, from the skull of Sir Thomas Browne to the lurid royal origins of the silkworm trade in China. Erudite and curious, mysterious and melancholy, and punctuated obliquely by an archive of grainy photographs, it is a testament, an atonement, and a reverie on the endgame of history. It is also as delicate as gossamer, and in its most profound moments it touches the sublime.
"The book is like a dream you want to last forever" (Roberta Silman, The New York Times Book Review), now with a gorgeous new cover by the famed designer Peter Mendelsund
A masterwork of W. G. Sebald, now with a gorgeous new cover by the famed designer Peter Mendelsund
The Rings of Saturn—with its curious archive of photographs—records a walking tour of the eastern 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. W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants (New Directions, 1996) was hailed by Susan Sontag as an "astonishing masterpiece perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read." It was "one of the great books of the last few years," noted Michael Ondaatje, who now acclaims The Rings of Saturn "an even more inventive work than its predecessor, The Emigrants."
About the Author
W. G. Sebald was born in Germany in 1944 and died in 2001. He is the author of The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, Austerlitz, After Nature, On the Natural History of Destruction, Unrecounted and Campo Santo.
Michael Hulse is an English translator, critic, and poet. Hulse has translated more than sixty books from the German.
Sebald has done what every writer dreams of doing. The Rings of Saturn glows with the radiance and resilience of the human spirit.
— Roberta Silman - The New York Times Book Review
Out of exquisitely attuned feeling for the past, Sebald fashioned an entirely new form of literature. I've read his books countless times trying to understand how he did it. In the end, I can only say that he practiced a kind of magic born out of almost supernatural sensitivity. — Nicole Krauss
He is an addiction, and, once button-holed by his books, you have neither the wish nor the will to tear yourself away. — Anthony Lane - The New Yorker
An extraordinary palimpsest of nature, human, and literary history. — Merle Rubin - The Wall Street Journal
In Sebald's writing, everything is connected, everything webbed together by the unseen threads of history, or chance, or fate, or death... beautiful and unsettling, elevated into an art of the uncanny—an art that was, in the end, Sebald's strange and inscrutable gift. — Slate
Think of W.G. Sebald as memory's Einstein. — Richard Eder - Los Angeles Times
This is very beautiful, and its strangeness is what is beautiful... One of the most mysteriously sublime of contemporary writers. And here, in The Rings of Saturn, is a book more uncanny than The Emigrants.
— James Wood - The New Republic
Sublime. — Cynthia Ozick
The first thing to be said about W. G. Sebald's books is that they always had a posthumous quality to them. He wrote—as was often remarked—like a ghost. He was one of the most innovative writers of the late twentieth century, and yet part of this originality derived from the way his prose felt exhumed from the nineteenth. — Geoff Dyer
Few writers have traveled as quickly from obscurity to the sort of renown that yields an adjective as quickly as German writer W. G. Sebald (1944 - 2001), and now Sebaldian is as evocative as Kafkaesque. Sebald is that rare being: an inimitable stylist who creates extraordinary sentences that, like crystals, simultaneously refract and magnify meaning.
Ostensibly a record of a journey on foot through coastal East Anglia, The Rings of Saturn is also a brilliantly allusive study of England's imperial past and the nature of decline and fall, of loss and decay. The Rings of Saturn is exhilaratingly, you might say hypnotically, readable. It is hard to imagine a stranger or more compelling work.