Three Rings by Daniel Mendelsohn
At a time when information overwhelms and a toxic level of cognitive dissonance prevails all around us, it is a relief and a pleasure to sit down with Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate—the latest book by the always wonderful Daniel Mendelsohn.
Building on his already extraordinary body of work—which is a mixture of essays, memoirs, translations, and critical studies—Three Rings is a unique exploration of three seemingly unconnected authors, whose only apparent link is their having lived and worked in exile. But there is more to this unlikely trio—the German literary scholar Erich Auerbach, the French Archbishop François Fénelon, and the German novelist W.G. Sebald—than meets the eye; and through a dazzling and masterful feat of scholarship, Mendelsohn manages to weave these lives together around themes as diverse as Homer, model-building, the Fall of Constantinople, and autobiography.
In the end, as a stunning example of ring composition—a narrative device where supplemental stories are told within the text to bring clarity to the main story—what Mendelsohn reveals is a hidden interconnectedness beneath the surface of all things, an underlying connective tissue of expression and thought that rises above the dramatic twists and turns of history, and which can serve as a guiding light for us all in times of crisis and displacement.
This slim work is a deeply humanist one, and I mean that in the highest sense of the word: that of encouraging us to explore the thoughts and experiences of those around us, to embrace alterity, and to seek out common threads instead of divisive differences.
Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate by Daniel Mendelsohn (University of Virginia Press).
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