The Rings of Saturn
Author: W.G. Sebald
Translator: Michael Hulse
Publisher: New Directions (2016)
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 that cross the path and mind of its narrator (who both is and is not Sebald) are lonely eccentrics. Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson”, the natural history of the herring, Borges, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, Sir Thomas Browne’s skull, recession-hit seaside towns, Joseph Conrad, the once-thriving silk industry of Norwich, Swinburne, the dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, and the massive bombings of WWII. Mesmerized by the mutability of all things, the narrator catalogs the transmigration of whole worlds: “On every new thing, there lies already the shadow of annihilation.”
"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."