A memoir, biography, work of history, and literary criticism all in one, this moving book tells the story of three exiled writers--Erich Auerbach, François Fénelon, and W. G. Sebald--and their relationship with the classics, from Homer to Mimesis.
In a genre-defying book hailed as "exquisite" (The New York Times
) and "spectacular" (The Times Literary Supplement
), the best-selling memoirist and critic Daniel Mendelsohn explores the mysterious links between the randomness of the lives we lead and the artfulness of the stories we tell. Combining memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism, Three Rings
weaves together the stories of three exiled writers who turned to the classics of the past to create masterpieces of their own--works that pondered the nature of narrative itself: Erich Auerbach, the Jewish philologist who fled Hitler's Germany and wrote his classic study of Western literature, Mimesis
, in Istanbul; François Fénelon, the seventeenth-century French archbishop whose ingenious sequel to the Odyssey
, The Adventures of Telemachus
--a veiled critique of the Sun King and the best-selling book in Europe for a hundred years--resulted in his banishment; and the German novelist W.G. Sebald, self-exiled to England, whose distinctively meandering narratives explore Odyssean themes of displacement, nostalgia, and separation from home.
Intertwined with these tales of exile and artistic crisis is an account of Mendelsohn's struggle to write two of his own books--a family saga of the Holocaust and a memoir about reading the Odyssey
with his elderly father--that are haunted by tales of oppression and wandering. As Three Rings
moves to its startling conclusion, a climactic revelation about the way in which the lives of its three heroes were linked across borders, languages, and centuries forces the reader to reconsider the relationship between narrative and history, art and life.