Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck – a novel that I picked up because it was assigned reading and then couldn’t put down. What a raw powerful story about humans this is. I kindled it and found myself categorizing highlighter colors for the ideas and phrases and sometimes even the language.
After I’d finished, I looked it up – piles of awards – Dayton Literary Peace Prize Nominee, Fiction (2018),Deutscher Buchpreis (German Book Prize) Nominee, Shortlist (2015), Premio Strega Europeo (2017), Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Nominee, Shortlist (2018), International Booker Prize Nominee, Longlist (2018).
I’m not in the least surprised – what a great read. I entered a world I’ve wondered about for decades – post-wall Berlin. I drenched my mind in things I’d only been exposed to via anecdotal comments by friends from outside my own country. In group conversations, those mentions were almost always followed by a quick change of subject. You know, because in polite circles we don’t talk about the hard things.
I wrapped my mind around realities rarely mentioned on news stations around here, and then only when it’s deemed headline-worthy. Which means something extreme that feeds an agenda. Instead, I got to walk in the shoes of a somewhat aimless newly-retired professor who got to know a few human beings, refugees of war and politics and climate change. I joined with that professor in seeing long-time friends and colleagues through a changing lens. I met imperfect people whose stories intertwined horror with hope, love, hopelessness, helplessness. I knew there’d be no fairy tale ending, yet remained engaged to the last pages.
The cadence of a book translated from another language always feels slightly different to me; I wonder if I’ll hear that when I’m in Germany?
Every human has a story, and as you know, I love to hear about the journeys of others. Here,yes, the characters are fictional, but they sure feel real, and it looks like a good deal of research went into this novel. Erpenbeck humanizes what we see on tv screens as a mass of people, not as individual persons. And she managed to somehow, in just the characters of her novel, reflect entire populations’ views, actions, and reactions. The protagonists reflections on borders, all by themselves, will not readily leave my head.
I marvel at Jenny Erpenbeck’s ability to cram such depth of reality so efficiently. What a talented writer. I may be in trouble, because you all know that now I’m going to have to binge-read everything she’s ever written. I must mention to my professors my very real struggle when they assign compelling authors.
Thanks, Prof. Martin Lohrmann, for putting this book on a required reading list. My awareness is expanded, my perspective is newly angled, and I’ve