Winner of Germany's Thomas Mann prize, a novel about a retired Berlin classics professor who becomes invested in the lives of a number of African refugees who are suffering under humanitarian and political bureaucracy.
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.