Rings of Saturn
By Sanjay Solanki
Carried aloft on the splendid prose, though losing something in translation, this multifaceted semifictional flight of Sebald’s is absolute wonder, fit to be front-shelved by every serious reader of fiction and non-fiction.
It deals with places, men, history and literature in a way no work does, describing the author’s journey through East Anglia mostly on foot, and engages with Thomas Browne, Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson,” Conrad and Roger Casement’s report on Congo exploitation and his activism on the Ireland question to his final execution, Taiping mass suicide of 1864, two World Wars, and Serbian atrocities which can be paralleled only by Auschwitz in the human history.
It is a sepia-print experience, at once wondrous and distancing.
Some prefer to call it a novel and would rather have novel open out this way from places and people and their past. It reminds me of Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, published some years before it, that is in 1987. It was less factual and historicist in its approach and more meditative in its socio-historical analyses, therefore, more deeply humanly-entrenched in its concerns.
However, despite quite differently oriented, both these works strike nearly same notes – at least to me – in the heart of the reader: that of the inevitable loss, turning of the tide, and ineluctable reduction of grand human designs to humble and humbling dust; classic case of converging of literature to the human concerns, its one and only loftiest aim.