You might think, by the title, that this is a sci fi novel. But you would be wrong. After reading a few pages, you might think this is a non-fiction account of the author’s walking trip through Suffolk, England. Again, you would be wrong.
W. G. Sebald is a German author, and this is a translation of his novel Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt, and no, Wallfahrt is not ….well, you know. It is pilgrimage in English.
A narrator whom we assume is the author sets off on a walking journey through Suffolk. As he (and why do we assume it is a he? Probably because women ain’t got time for that sh*t) comes to various locations, they are described, which leads him on to muse on other topics which they bring to mind. At first, the reader … OK, me ….. thinks, hmmm just a teensy smidge boring. But really, it is somewhat hypnotic, and you say, OK, just a couple more pages, and on and on you go, all caught up in the journey and the thoughts.
He discusses people he has met, the silk industry, the region where Joseph Conrad lived as a young immigrant prodded him to discuss at some length the real life horrors of the Belgium Congo colony that was the basis for Heart of Darkness, talks of the situation in Ireland, both now (well, in 1995 when the book was written), and its history, and discusses the involvement of Roger Casement, an Irish-born civil servant who worked for the British Foreign Office as a diplomat, and later became a humanitarian activist, Irish nationalist, and poet. Described as the “father of twentieth-century human rights investigations”, he was honoured in 1905 for the Casement Report on the Congo and knighted in 1911 for his important investigations of human rights abuses in Peru. He then made efforts during World War I to gain German military aid for the 1916 Easter Rising that sought to gain Irish independence. Casement was finally to be hanged for treason. Long story and sad.
The narrative circles back several times to the issue of slavery of one kind or another, and there is a long meditation on the large estates of England and how they came into being. There is quite a bit on Sir Thomas Browne, whom the author admires a great deal, and a sizeable chunk of Chinese history.
It really is a tour de force, as they say, one that doesn’t quite hit you until after you have finished it and it sticks with you and rattles around in your head for a while.
Do read it. It has a style and rhythm to it that is just so soothing.