Encompassing over one hundred years of German history, from the nineteenth century to the Weimar Republic, from World War II to the Socialist German Democratic Republic, and finally reunification and its aftermath, Visitation offers the life stories of twelve individuals who seek to make their home in one magical little house on a forested property on a Brandenburg lake outside Berlin.
In Visitation, allegory is toned down, history intrudes more explicitly, and the narrative canvas is bigger. The page count may still be modest, but the achievement and resonance are massive ... She immerses us so deeply in the worldview of each protagonist that we grow fond of them all, worry about the things that worry them, cease to see the things that they ignore ... Indeed, the amount of emotional engagement Erpenbeck manages to win from us, in a mere 150 pages, is just one proof of her mastery. In marked contrast to the unearned love that inflated novels so often demand, Visitation allows us to feel we've known real individuals, experienced the slow unfolding of history, and bonded unconditionally with a place, without authorial pestering or pathos-cranking ... Erpenbeck's German is poetical, almost incantatory, taking full advantage of the portmanteau words and Rubik's cube grammar of that language. Bernofsky opts for a smooth style that won't come across as bizarre in English, sacrificing some of Erpenbeck's verse-like cadences and delivering a flexible, accessible narrative ... an extraordinarily strong book by a major German author, ingeniously translated.
She omits dialogue and interaction almost entirely; each chapter immerses readers in the mind of the title character, creating gaps that can only be filled by later accounts of the lives of others ... Erpenbeck’s strategies—these concealments and gradual disclosures—create a subtle layering of stories that is the novel’s greatest strength. That said, one sometimes wishes that Visitation would leave a little more to the imagination ... Erpenbeck is as proficient at the delayed reveal on the small scale as she is on the large. She repeats particular sentences, allowing us to trace the dawning of our comprehension as she gradually reveals more through concentric descriptions and elaborations.
Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel, Visitation, can be read as a response or a companion to Sebald’s The Emigrants ... Like Sebald, Erpenbeck attempts to take the long view of modern German history, though her perspective is geological rather than historical ... The landscape, of course, doesn’t care who occupies it, and if the view you take is long enough then the terrible events of the 20th century that shaped these people’s lives begin to look rather small ... Erpenbeck’s aim seems to be to show an old-fashioned society on the brink of modern madness ... Erpenbeck seems to have learned a lot from Sebald. She writes in long run-on sentences and doesn’t always concern herself with paragraphs. Important plot elements and insights are buried democratically alongside commonplace descriptions and facts ... Erpenbeck has a sharp eye for unpretentious natural detail and pays close attention to the little repetitions necessary to hold a life together ... I’m probably not avant-garde enough (or German enough) to appreciate Erpenbeck’s work. The price she pays for cutting up her narrative seems to me very high: the reader has to work hard just to find out what’s going on.