Book Review on "The Rings of Saturn" by W.G. Sebald | My Paper Hub
In a tragic accident in 2001, W.G.
Sebald met his...
In a tragic accident in 2001, W.G.
Sebald met his death at an early age of 57. He was cited by many as a future
winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature following his writing of the book The
Rings of Saturn, formerly written in German in 1995 and then translated into
English in 1998. The book went a long way to securing a reputation for Sebald
as a pioneer of a new kind of literary fiction. The book is outstanding with
his unique style of hybrid genres, blurring of facts and fictions, some
interesting and distinct black and white photographs and his characteristic
meditation on the destructive nature of history, the lives of people affected
and the restorative power contained in Art. He has also written poetry,
criticism and other three other novels within a decade for which he has
received several prestigious prizes in Germany. The Rings of Saturn book is a
first person account by a nameless narrator that typically resembles the
Sebaldian fashion on a walking tour in the Suffolk. He describes the places he sees
and the people he encounters in the journey including his translator Michael
Hamburger and also discusses various episodes of history and literature such as
the writings of Thomas Browne that attach in a similar way to the text. There
is a film named Patience that us based on the book released in 2012.
The book is referred as a basic account
of a journey that the author takes in a walking tour taken years ago in the
English Anglia an English County. At the end of the tour, he suffered a nervous
collapse as is indicated at the beginning of the book. The book provides a
tracking of the schedule of the journey providing photographs giving it a sense
of a naïve aspect of a travel album. Moreover, it speaks of people met and
gives a clear account of the things seen along the wy including memories and
reflections that have suggested themselves in the retrospect. In the whole
arrangement, it has a sense of a relentless unity of obsession but seems rather
coincidental at the beginning.
On one level, the book is a walking
tour of the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, which Sebald name had
adopted as home having taught literature in the UAE in since 1970. As a reader
is moved with the melancholic narrator from one town to another, from one
village to the next but in the process one is led all over the world into
differing times and different lives. The narrator can accomplish that through a
network of associations, tangents, and some apparent coincidences. For example,
a ride on a railway at Somerleyton Hall leads to a 19th century China and
Taiping Rebellion, the Congo and the colonial genocide, a TV documentary on
Roger Casement to Joseph Conrad and also a meditation on the raids of the
Second World War and some tragedies and wartime statistics brought by the two
world wars (Sebald and Hulse, 34). In the midst
of the meandering connections, there is a form of interlinking to create a
patterned whole that is visible as one goes through the book. Just as the title
of the book announces, the book is a study of melancholy. It takes its central
ideas from "Hydriotaphia, or Urn Burial," all of Sir Thomas Browne
which is an extraordinarily exaggerated disquisition that the
seventeenth-century physician and essayist a native of East Anglia wrote
responding to the local discovery of unidentified ancient gravesite. The book
provides a meditation to historical losses and the possibility of restoration
of the powers of art. To crown it all, it is a rumination on the mysterious
community of both the living and the dead.
The book is a rambling affair just as
is the case with its origin. Sebald recounts the rise and the fall of great
houses and communities. He considers the lives of various literary individuals
at one time or another that were residing in East Anglia among them considering
Browne, Edward Fitzgerald, Swinburne, Michael Hamburger, Joseph Conrad and
Chateaubriand. He also speaks of Chinese historical figures such as Roger
Casement and Dowager Empress. The economic changes are also of interest to
Sebald as he discourses on the varying fortunes of the herring industry that
was once a mainstay of England’s North Sea communities and also turns at the
various points in the book of the subject of the international silk industry.
On his journey, he pays a visit to a man who had devoted his years to
constructing a perfect replication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The
episode in the book together with other episodes offers a similarity with The
Emigrants book by Selden as well where a painter Max Ferber discusses a meeting
during childhood where he met with a Jewish itinerant who moves from one place
to the next exhibiting a similar model (67).
The story in the book of the burning of
the frozen substance of life is intriguing to the reader. It makes one wonder
whether the inner coldness and the desolation may not be the precondition for
making the world believe. It raises eyebrows as to whether it is a kind of
fraudulent showmanship that one’s wretched heart is still glowing. However,
Sinbad displays a frightening almost inhuman certainty. Sir Thomas Browne as
noted at the beginning of the book makes remarks on the fabled survival on top
of the centuries of a piece of silk in the turn of Patroclus for Browne, which
was a symbol of the in-destructive nature of the human soul as is assured by
the scripture. Silk together with its manufacture is an ongoing preoccupation
throughout the entire book. It echoes Browne symbolizes the curious
interrelation of the corrupt and the incorruptible. It is also metaphorical for
how the book in itself weaves the separate thread into singular substance.
However, towards the end the theme is still funereal.
The Rings of Saturn in comparison with
the earlier works by Sebald specifically The Emigrants book, it is in many ways
less satisfying to some extent though it is still an amazing piece of
literature. The unsatisfactory nature of the book is in the fact that it has a
flow of suspense that leaves one not aware on what the author will encounter
next, and even the ending is not according to what the reader would hope for
and hence leaving one unsatisfied yet mesmerized at the turn of events. On the
far side of emotions such as remorse, anger, hope, sorrow, and even sympathy,
Selden offers a more radical affiliation. It is against the violent legacies of
countries and the unending self-approval of the living, he refers the reader to
the silent community, the perfect deprivation of the dead which is a relatively
ancient idea that offers intrigue but may be difficult to interpret or decipher
its meaning in the contemporary society.
Credit to the scholarly and writing
ability of Selden must be accorded due to the triumphatic nature of the tone of
the book. It is a synchrony of events, environment, and even memories with the
mood of the writer. Despite the voracious curiosity of Sebald, about the world
around him, the mood is miserable. Then conviction with which he writes about
the flaws of human beings, his acquisitiveness, and self-environment is both
chilling and convincing. In his pondering on humanity’s exploitation of the
environment, he foresees exactly the issues that are begging to bite the modern
society that are the damage of the natural habitat, the decimation of food
stocks, and the pollution of water and air.
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