Jenny Erpenbeck’s magnificent novel Go, Went, Gone is about 'the central moral question of our time,' and among its many virtues is that it is not only alive to the suffering of people who are very different from us but alive to the false consolations of telling 'moving' stories about people who are very different from us ... Her task is comprehension rather than replication, and she uses a measured, lyrically austere prose, whose even tread barely betrays the considerable passion that drives it onward. (Susan Bernofsky deserves immense credit for bringing this prose to us in English.) Among contemporary Anglophone writers, this classical restraint calls to mind J. M. Coetzee, the V. S. Naipaul of The Enigma of Arrival, and Teju Cole’s Naipaul-influenced Open City ... Erpenbeck’s novel is usefully prosaic, written in a slightly uninviting, almost managerial present tense, which keeps overt emotion at bay. Just as Erpenbeck does not really examine the causes of Richard’s change of heart, so she is wary of bestowing anything like easy 'redemption' on her protagonist (and hence on her novel).
Her new novel resonates with an unexpected simplicity that is profound, unsettling and subtle. The prose, as before astutely translated by Susan Bernofsky, is this time far less incantatory ... The book could easily have become a well-intentioned polemic, but Erpenbeck combines her philosophical intellect with hours of conversations conducted with refugees to tell a very human story about a lonely, emotionally insulated man slowly discovering there is a far wider, urgent world beyond him through his meetings with extraordinary, vividly drawn migrants, each with a story to tell ... Great fiction doesn’t have to be real, but it does have to be true. Erpenbeck’s powerful tale, delivered in a wonderfully plain, candid tone, is both real and true. It will alert readers, make us more aware and, it is to be hoped, more human.
Her new book, elegantly translated by Susan Bernofsky and set in contemporary Berlin, tells the story of a recently retired classics professor named Richard who, widowed and childless, seeks focus and meaning in his life... What ensues is Richard’s intellectual, social and spiritual blossoming ...Erpenbeck’s novel makes a powerful case for Richard’s evolution, and by the book’s close we understand that his own life — so long controlled and closed down — has been emotionally opened and revitalized by his new path ... timely political subject, distressing and confounding, could easily have worked against its success: The risk of didacticism is high ...Erpenbeck’s rigor, her crystalline human insight, her exhilaratingly synthetic imagination...combine to make Go, Went, Gone an important novel, both aesthetically and morally.
Though Go, Went, Gone hints at the epic in its storytelling—Richard gives the men he befriends sobriquets from ancient mythology—it dwells primarily in the prosaic, content to document everyday conversations and outings. The immigrants face little direct bigotry; their main adversary is German law, which with frosty indifference throws up insuperable obstacles to their efforts to apply for asylum. The often exasperating reportorial quality of the writing—the understated translation is by Susan Bernofsky —calls to mind J.M. Coetzee, whose flat, affectless prose wrests coherence from immense social turmoil. By making the predicament of the refugee banal and quotidian, Ms. Erpenbeck helps it become visible.
Superbly translated by her usual collaborator Susan Bernofsky, the novel naturally forms part of a loose trilogy with the anterior works ... There’s a melancholic undertone to the novel, murmuring beneath its condensed, liquid prose. Erpenbeck is scathing about the absurdities of a nightmarish bureaucracy that appears to deliberately wrongfoot refugees ... If the efforts of Richard and the majority of his German friends have the element of a utopian vision, its roots surely lie in the cataclysmic decades they have endured, and the relative prosperity of their post-communist lives. Deceptively unhurried, yet undeniably urgent, this is Erpenbeck’s most significant work to date.
This time, however, her subject could not be more contemporary: she is writing about immigration, the mass movement of peoples from the global South to the North, which over the last several years has transformed the politics of Europe and America ...Go, Went, Gone is a very earnest book, its every page designed to force the reader — in the first instance, the German reader — to confront the human realities behind today’s refugee crisis ... By choosing to focus on the relatively small number of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa — including Niger, Nigeria, and Ghana — Erpenbeck is able to sidestep the largest political, cultural, and economic questions raised by mass migration ... The hard question, which Go, Went, Gone does not directly address but unavoidably raises, is how far we are morally obligated to remedy this injustice.
Jenny Erpenbeck’s book talks a lot about bodies, bodies with black skin and bodies with white skin, bodies with visible and invisible scars, bodies with a place to be and bodies in a vacuum, bodies with supposedly little time left and bodies with supposedly too much time, bodies in limbo outside of time, bodies with a history and bodies without a future ... We get to know the men from Africa through their interactions with Richard, through Richard’s research in books, newspapers, and on the Internet, through the stories the men tell him, through Richard’s speculations ... Go. Went. Gone. Richard keeps going, he keeps trying and stumbling forward into unknown territories — despite bureaucratic obstacles and the presence of the police, despite bitter disappointments that end some of relationships he had started to form with some of his new friends ... And that’s why in the end, he wins me over.
A nuanced depiction of people who have largely given up the luxury of hope and have little to do but wait. Erpenbeck bluntly reminds readers what is at stake for Germany and, by extension, the world. A timely, informed, and moving novel of political fury.
Go, Went, Gone (the title comes from verb conjugations written on a classroom wall) is about being woke — a contemporary idiom referring to how individuals become aware of what is happening in their community and, once cognizant, cannot lose that awareness ... There is something both stately and dramatic about the pace of this novel, which never loses sight of either the big issues or the smaller details. Ably translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses this yet-unresolved crisis with both elegance and urgency.
...addresses the current refugee crisis that has had far-reaching political ramifications on both sides of the Atlantic ... In a work that is at once fiercely urgent and profoundly meditative, Erpenbeck underscores the central truth that the engagement with the Other inevitably entails a reckoning with the self ... Throughout the novel, Erpenbeck is preoccupied with questions of history—whether personal, national, or global — with issues of culture and custom, as Richard and the refugee interlocutors negotiate their relationships with one another...it is not Erpenbeck’s diffident protagonist that makes the lasting impression. Instead, the reader is left with the cold fury of her polemic against Germany and the European Union’s bureaucratic response to this humanitarian crisis...reminds us that it is the mission of art to engage our imaginative empathy and hold the status quo to a higher account.
Go, Went, Gone tackles an issue that’s made headlines — namely, the plight of African refugees in Europe. Also the author presents the material in a straightforward fashion unusual for her ...meditates on how surface misleads us; it posits 'language as a skin' ... Making that journey — initiating a conversation between comfortable North and indigent South — provides the core drama... Legal arcana like Dublin II, drawn up without public oversight and ever more draconian, would hamstring most novelists ...a couple of passages strain, rhetorically or dramatically, but by and large, the law’s deepening chill is well rendered; we suffer with its victims ... A woman [Erpenbeck] who’d previously played fast and loose with time and space tethered herself to real-world research, to interviews and fieldwork, outside her comfort zone.
A retired classicist, Richard shuns strident rhetoric. This reserved and solitary man, the protagonist of Jenny Erpenbeck’s seventh novel, nonetheless comes to a severe judgment on the plight of African refugees in Berlin ... Susan Bernofsky’s finely crafted translation of Go, Went, Gone reaches Anglophone readers at an opportune moment ...incorporates documentary elements — the step-by-step dispersal of the refugees, the bureaucratic nightmare as they risk drowning 'in rivers and oceans of paper' — but transcends reportage ...Ms Erpenbeck binds the upheavals of past and present, Europe and Africa. Lyrical and satirical by turns, she shows that fearful isolation, emotional or political, hurts wall-builders and wall-jumpers alike.
Erpenbeck’s mastery of language and image ripples through her pages. The body of a man drowned in the lake behind Richard’s house recurs throughout and expands in meaning each time he enters Richard’s mind. Her prose is so controlled and flowing—and superbly translated by Susan Bernofsky. Her chapters are compact lessons in form and function, some long, most short, all well-contained. I could go on, but you should find out for yourself.
Richard plunges into the work of making a case for the men’s asylum, work that takes him into the twists and turns of humanitarian and political bureaucracy and forces him to reckon with a decidedly dark strain running through his compatriots ... A lyrical, urgent artistic response to a history that is still unfolding.
...[a] melancholy and affecting novel ... Subtly, Erpenbeck suggests that the refugees and the Germans have in common a history of displacement: Richard and his friends 'are post-war children; who were citizens of East Germany, then saw the system 'under which they’d lived most of their lives; collapse.' The narrative emerges as an insightful call to conscience and an undeniable argument for our common humanity.