It has been good to read Three Rings in the time of lockdown, not only because it is a great joy in itself, but because of the variety and richness of its references ... Mendelsohn’s book has gathered into its net, in a way that is both smooth and sharp, many of the great books across time, and has given them a new significance in a fresh and dazzling context ... it is a performance of considerable magic ... Mendelsohn uses a great galaxy of words for his own circling technique. Some of these are: whirl, twist, weave, spin, spiral, twine, entangle, involute, digress, elaborate. It sounds like a mighty powerful dance. And so it is ... Reading Three Rings was for me one of the richest reading experiences I have had for a while.
... a brief but bountiful mashup of criticism, literary biography, craft essay and personal history. As always, the author’s voice blends authority with considerable warmth and charm, luring readers into his complex intellectual enthusiasms ... If Three Rings were only a survey of circular narratives, it would be interesting enough, as Mr. Mendelsohn has honed a prose style that is nuanced yet clear, without a hint of pedantry, and one is always glad to learn what he has to teach. But he’s after something more ambitious here than a literary jeu d’esprit. Adding memoir and biography, he reminds himself and his readers that books are vulnerable objects. They are all too easily banned, burned, buried among collapsing civilizations, and forgotten. Even if books engender other books, there are no guarantees for their own survival ... Mr. Mendelsohn tempers monumentality with injections of autobiography. In a meditation on Calypso’s cave, for instance, he wonders whether his lifelong fear of enclosed spaces might be a symptom of inherited trauma. These snippets of memoir might appear to be digressions. But, like the Odyssey, they come around ... a short but profoundly moving work, clings with the same tenacity to a belief in the regenerative power of literature. Companionably and creatively, it reaches back through eras of wars and plagues and cataclysms to offer readers a reassuringly long view of the vigor of the Odyssey, the book that launched a thousand books.
This luminous narrative, in which the tales of each of Mendelsohn’s three chosen exiled writers appealingly intertwine, is about many things—memory, literature, family, immigration, and religion—and it ends where it began, with a 'wanderer' entering 'an unknown city after a long voyage' ... This slender, exquisite book rewards on many levels.
Bringing together memoir, history, and literary analysis, critic Mendelsohn delivers a fine study of digression, exile, and circularity ... Mendelsohn’s talent with descriptive detail brings his work alive, such as repeated descriptions of Auerbach, while exiled in Istanbul, gazing through a palace window over the turquoise Sea of Marmara. Mendelsohn never fails to entertain as he takes the reader across thousands of years’ worth of literature and lives.