Friday, 6 April 2012

Easter holiday book tip

Walking near the Irish, Welsh, or British sea

Here's a 5-star book tip for your Easter holidays. It will shake you to the core. You will never be the same person again.

It's all about one man's walk along the edge of the sea. The sea is the German Ocean. Or in Suffolk it would be the North Sea. The man is a German and he lives in England. You'd think he'd know. But he doesn't. Or even if he does he doesn't. And neither do I. To me it's all one ocean. Or one sea. Whichever you prefer.

In the Rings of Saturn the tidal effect is at work. It's a hypnotic thing. What debris shall we find on the beach today?

It begins: "In August 1992, when the dog days were dawing 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."

It consists of ten haunting chapters (nearly 300 pages) and many blurred photographs.

My recently purchased paperback copy was published by Vintage Books (8.99p) and it is the excellent English translation by Michael Hulse. The original Die Ringe des Saturn was published in German by Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt am Main in 1995.

Now try what follows for size. I almost typed Sizewell. But that's another chapter.

"A second snap shows the severed head with a cigarette between lips still parted in a last cry of pain. This happened at Jasenovac camp on the Sava. Seven hundred thousand men, women and children were killed there alone in ways that made even the hair of the Reich's experts stand on end, as some of them are said to have admitted when they were amongst themselves. The preferred instruments of execution were saws and sabers, axes and hammers, and leather cuff-bands with fixed blades that were fastened on the lower arm and made specially in Solingen for the purpose of cutting throats, as well as a kind of rudimentary crossbar gallows on which the Serbs, Jews and Bosnians, once rounded up, were hanged in rows like crows or magpies. Not far from Jasenovac, in a radius of no more than ten miles, there were also the camps of Prijedor, Stara Gradiska and Banja Luka, where the Croatian militia, its hand strengthened by the Wehrmacht and its spirit by the Catholic church, performed one day's work after another in similar manner. The history of this massacre, which went on for years, is recorded in fifty thousand documents abandoned by the Germans and Croats in 1945 . . . "

". . . one might also add that one of the Heeresgruppe E intelligence officers at that time was a young Viennese lawyer . . ."

". . . competent in the technicalities of administration, occupied various high offices, among them that of Secretary General of the United Nations. And reportedly it was in this last capacity that he spoke onto tape, for the benefit of any extra-terrestrials that may happen to share our universe, words of greeting that are now, together with other memorabilia of mankind, approaching the outer limits of our solar system aboard the space probe Voyager II."

The recording was a complete waste of time.

Jasenovac and the countless other atrocities littering the ages of human civilization are more than enough to deter the friendly extra-terrestrials from dropping by to greet the Earthlings.

Sadly it will always be so for when the blood is up we shall always behave in our usual cowardly manner. We shall go on doing so until we obliterate ourselves. Until we become splinters of ice in the cosmos. We are driven by the madness of the crowd. We lose the capacity of independent and rational thought. Our judgement is flawed. It is our fate.

The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald (1944 - 2001)
ISBN 978-0-099-44892-1
Vintage U.K. 8.99p


  1. Sebald's Rings of Saturn is a peerless book. Actually no, all of his books make similarly unforgetable reading. If you have not read his others, I would recommend them all

  2. dritanje, thanks for the comment - and I was so impressed with Rings of Saturn that I'm already on my next Sebald book which is, as it happens, The Emigrants.


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