... the reminiscences have a crackling vitality ... memories are expressed with masterful touches of repetition, achieving a telegraphic poetry. Nevertheless, the section comes to no more than a handful of pieces, a number of them only a couple of pages. Meatier by far is the group that follows, 'Literature and Music.' These investigations into Erpenbeck’s joint calling (she directs opera, as well as writing novels) bristle with erudite allusion, not to mention sheer smarts. Repetition remains a hallmark of her style, but here it turns canny, yielding aphoristic gems ... the impact is of a master at work, someone who ought to be considered for the Nobel ... 'Society,' just two essays...pack a terrific punch...as they confront one of our moment’s most pressing issues, namely, the untold millions of displaced people seeking asylum ... Not a Novel cannot claim to be a coherent whole. Nevertheless, its pig-in-a-python ungainliness contributes to the fascination. Variety proves its own reward, since in every guise this artist makes virtuosic adjustments, changes of tone or rhetoric.
... very little about this book resembles a traditional memoir. We walk briefly among shadows and memories of her childhood in East Berlin, but there is nothing in the way of immersive personal detail save her granular memories of losing her mother and managing the inventory of her belongings and apartment after her death ... Artistic craft and influence occupy the bulk of the text ... A deeply deliberate writer in possession of a keen sense of tempo, it’s telling that she trained and worked as an opera director for years before concentrating on fiction, a detail that reveals itself in relation to her development as a writer ... Erpenbeck tackles enormous, complex topics in the memoir—freedom, citizenship, humanity, refugees, asylum, identity. But she’s in no way didactic. Rather, she takes these subjects presumably because she finds herself at an impasse ... A child of the Cold War as well as a survivor of the ruins of the Third Reich, Erpenbeck considers our contemporary moment with an especially sharp lens ... In so far as this is a memoir, it’s one that perhaps argues that all personal histories are significant when you consider lives through unifying perspectives. Concluding with a sharp focus on society, her memoir closes with a haunting look at individuals who are stateless, giving ample space to an obituary for Bashir Zakaryau ... Erpenbeck is a virtuoso whose eye for detail depends entirely on a refusal to write what’s easy or straightforward. It’s a perspective conditioned by losing one identity and watching an entire country disappear in the name of freedom.
Erpenbeck’s refreshing frankness and incisive thinking permeate this collection ... The essays explore the subjects – walls and borders, truth and silence, identity and memory and the limitations of language – present in her fiction while her autobiographical accounts give valuable context ... Erpenbeck’s anger is palpable and this collection reveals both her creative process and the injustices that drive her to write.