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We, the Drowned

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  9,528 ratings  ·  1,280 reviews
It is an epic drama of adventure, courage, ruthlessness and passion by one of Scandinavia’s most acclaimed storytellers.

In 1848 a motley crew of Danish sailors sets sail from the small island town of Marstal to fight the Germans. Not all of them return – and those who do will never be the same. Among them is the daredevil Laurids Madsen, who promptly escapes again into the
Hardcover, 678 pages
Published February 9th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2006)
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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 ·  9,528 ratings  ·  1,280 reviews

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What do you say about a book that, after you finished it, you sat staring at a wall for fifteen minutes while tears flowed down your cheeks? It’s miraculous. I don’t feel that that’s enough, this review isn’t enough. I loved this book, I cannot do it justice. Still, it’s a good challenge to force yourself to examine what made you love a book, so here we go:

This book is the ocean.
It’s about a fight with God. The book covers roughly 200 years of history, and the sea is the only constant character,
Nataliya Yaneva
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bulgarian review below/Ревюто на български е по-долу
If you stand on the deck of your life and look at the horizon, you will see them emerge. The spectres dwelling in the past and the drowned inhabiting the present. You will see how the surf is trying to cast them ashore on some marooned coast, but they are always there reminding you of themselves, and there’s no other way. Because they are us. We, the drowned.

Despite its volume, the novel has a lace structure and the text breathes lightly. T
It was a big book. I read it. Now I don't know what to make of it.

It was a big baggy monster. Its language oddly stiff and awkward. It was a tell don't show book. And I'm not sure why so many supposedly hard-boiled people were so shocked at the sight of Captain Cook's shrunken head either.

At one point the book reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude and I thought that Jensen wanted to write a Danish version of that, but with a shipyard financial scandal instead of a fruit plantation. Howeve
Mar 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Like any self-respecting Minnesotan, I grew up loving the water. During our three warm months, I would fish, swim, and water ski. During our nine cold months, I would ice fish, drunk-swim, and ice-water-ski. But I don’t need to interact with the water. I enjoy it just as much – if not more – on a passive basis. Just plop me down on a beach with a book and a beer, and I’ve found my heaven. Water, you see, invites one to contemplate; it soothes the soul; it stirs the imagination. (Also, so does be ...more
I know I absolutely loved this book, but I fear I will be unable to properly explain why.

It is all in the lines. Some are beautiful, and yet their beauty is not the main thing. It is that each line had me thinking. Something happens, a person does something and then a line expresses the dilemma a person now faces. This is what made the book for me. Life is complicated, people are complicated and I like books that show you this. I felt that over and over again, in every paragraph, I was drawn in
(A revised version of this short review of my favorite work in translation appeared on the National Book Critics Circle blog in September 2018.)

I spent five days utterly submerged in this magnificent Danish seafaring epic. From the first line onwards, it is an enthralling combination of history and legend: “Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to heaven and came down again thanks to his boots.”

Jensen traces the history of Marstal, a small island off the coast of De
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites

WOW! This book here is one of the best examples of why I love reading so much. I've been through a slight reading slump for a few months (thanks, Javier Marias, I guess...) but the history of this amazing Marstal island in the Baltic sea and of its roving sailors proved to be the best medicine I needed.

Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots.

The story of a common sailor, and of his set of heavy handmade boots, becom
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book draws you like a sea stream.

Luckily, it is not only about seafaring or the life of sea men. Jensen takes a deeper look into a world, build upon and gravitating entirely around the sea, or better The Sea. The book comprises of different smaller stories or episodes (I was having this particular feeling sometimes that I was watching a TV-series of more or less undefended episodes, which is, to my taste, not something by default bad).

The atmosphere of the histories is composed in a (sligh
Mar 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
This novel begins in 1848 and ends in 1945. It tells the story of the town of Marstal in Denmark and its sailors. Jensen is an excellent story teller and though it's a very long book (686 pages) for the most part I was thoroughly engaged. The various storylines are alive with dramatic tension and there's a good deal of wisdom in the writing. ...more
“Could it be that nature doesn’t care whether we live or die?”
This book offers classic sailor stories, adding a slightly moralistic and naturalistic touch. Jensen follows various characters from the Danish village of Marstal through the 19th and 20th centuries, each from a different narrative perspective. The sea is what binds the characters, and Jensen uses all the literary genres associated with it, starting with a slightly hilarious description of a naval battle. Personally, I found Albert Ma
I love being surprised by books. I had heard wonderful things about this book, but I wasn't won over by the blurb. I mean, a book about sailors and boats, how interesting could that really be? Aye aye Captain, loading and unloading on docks, scurvy, maggoty sea biscuits, twenty seven ways of tying a rope. Come on, 700pp of that doesn't sound like riveting reading.

But I was wrong on two counts. While there is sailing and some life on boats, there is so much more going on with these characters. Th
Alice Lippart
Wonderful piece of literature. The characters were amazing and the writing lovely. Some parts a bit slow, but other than that, amazing.
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, wwii
”The sea was ever-changing, and yet it left him with an impression of sameness. <…> The cloud above the frozen sea changed, but he was already familiar with them all. There was plenty for the eye to feast on, but nothing for the soul.”

I did it. Now I feel like We, the Drowned is the only fiction book I’ve read in my entire life or at least as if I’ve been stuck with it ever since I learnt how to read. However, despite the numerous occasions when I was moaning about how unimaginably long this
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could remember where it was that I first heard of We,The Drowned by Carsten Jansen. I can't help thinking that where ever it was must have recommendations for other books and since Drowned is so very, very good I would like to know all the other books they liked. It had to be somewhere on the internet of course and it was made the book sound so intriguing that I wrote down the title. I wanted to keep a record of it so that when it became available I could get it. Availability was an iss ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: denmark
Call us Ishmael.

It takes almost 100 pages until I'm struck by this strange, recurring "we." After all, it's not as if the narrator takes up a lot of room in Carsten Jensen's 700-page novel; for the most part, We, The Drowned is narrated in the same way as many other novels with no clear protagonist, some sort of omnicient storyteller who never gets personal, never says "I" or reveals his or her name. It's just that the reader is occasionally reminded that this story, the history of the little Da
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
First person plural; but not in the ‘we.‘
I said that about Evan Dara's The Lost Scrapbook for some reason. This novel is in the "we" through and through. And it's a lovely "we", probably an awful lot like your "we". Except unless of course like most americans your community has been more or less taken out from under you and perhaps you never even knew it once existed. Another excellent community=we novel I enjoyed very much was Kanthapura. One gets the we by subterfuge I think rather often in
Oct 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Jensen has written a saga that tells the story of a port in Denmark from the 19th century to the end of WW2. He gives us the ebb and flow of the fortunes of the port, its families and its markets (the whole world). He shows us how cruel and unforgiving the sea can be - for long periods the town is mainly populated by women and children as most of the men are away at sea. Many of the men do not come back.

Its pages are full of fantastic characters in dramatic circumstances - secrets and lies, murd
Like other, it is hard to explain exactly why I liked this book so much. It is an adventure story, about an actual small town in Denmark called Marstal (on the island Ärö.) It is a seafaring town, where fathers are sailors or fisherman: in both cases, with short lifespans, leaving a town mostly full of women and children. Covering almost a century of history (1848-1945), the novel starts with a battle between the invincible Danish navy and a German invasion and continues through the conclusion o ...more
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Today Marstal, tomorrow the world!

The small Danish town of Marstal on the island named Ærø in the Baltic Sea (maps included) and, of course, its people of several generations are the protagonists of this wonderfully composed epic adventure that spans almost one hundred years, from 1848 to the end of WW2, and pretty much all of the seven seas.

Ideal for landlubbers like me, who can barely tell a sternpost from a jibboom (or a bowsprit for that matter), not to mention the myriads of different sails
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is one of my new favorites ❤️
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
We, the Drowned, is a magnificent book. It spans a century, from 1845 to 1945, and tells the stories of four generations of sailors and their families from the small Danish village of Marstal. Located at the tip of the island of Aero, Marstal during this time was one of the largest and wealthiest ports in the Baltic Sea, second only to the port at Copenhagen. Still, life in the village of Marstal is like life in most small towns, full of gossip, old alliances, and even older feuds. At the same t ...more
if you like this review, i now have website: www.michaelkamakana.com

280617: this book greatly surprised me. i am not usually much of a reader of epics, i do not know Danish authors (5), i would not have read this but for certain efriends on goodreads who rated this so highly. as it is translation i might have missed some language-specific aspects of the work, but i do not know if that is much of the appeal...

so, translation is fine for me. structure of the book is very exact: covers major incide
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this back in 2017. Had the prose been elevated just a bit more, then this could easily be a full-fledged masterpiece. And yet it's still an epic of passionate storytelling with a great opener and one of the best endings I've ever read. I highly recommend it, and now I'm very happy to report that I just published an interview with the man himself. You can read it for free here: https://thecollidescope.com/2022/03/2... ...more
Jan 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
I think part of my excellent reading experience was that I had bought a very loved and battered pocket that was extremely pleasant to read but of course the content of the book was excellent to. I can't quite figure out exactly why I loved this novel. The writing is very well done and the story flows beautiful. But the actual story wasn't a favorite of mine. ...more
We, the Drowned is a compilation of the stories of people, places, and ships, that covers a period of almost a century and tells the story of a few thousand people. Starting off with the war between Denmark and Germany in 1846 and the story of Laurids Madsen, it curves forward in time through World Wars I and II and Madsen’s son Albert, his acquaintance with a young boy (grown man at the end of the book) Knud Erik, and the thousands of people living in Marstal – an important port and seafaring t ...more
This book tells the epic story of a four generation of sailors who lived in Marstal, a small town in Denmark.

The story covers a period of time from 1848 till the end of World War II, 1945.

And what about the plot? I won't say a word otherwise I'll spoil the whole thing. But once you start to read this book, you won't be able to stop even if it has 700-800 pages.

This book really deserves a 6 stars rating, believe me!
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
We, The Drowned could be divided into a trilogy, as the story spams over 100 years – from the middle of the 19th century until the end of WWII – and we follow characters from the port town of Marstal, Denmark, we are presented with the stories of Laurids Madsen, his son Albert Madsen, and then Albert’s protégé Knud Erik and his mother Klara Friis.

The great achievement of this book is how the individual stories both reflect and engendered the bigger story of the community of Marstal, and in some
Sallie Dunn
Apr 17, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

One of my favorite reads this year! An epic story beginning in 1848 and ending on the day of Germany’s surrender in WWII. An omniscient narrator tells the story throughout which begins with Laurids Madsen, father of four, off to war (the three year war known as the Schleswig War, between Denmark and Germany.) He is the only survivor of a battleship blown to smithereens thanks to some magical realism on the author’s part. Laurids’ story is followed by his son Arthur’s and then Knud Eric
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Spanning several generations, various world events and endless nautical miles, this tome of a book revolves around the inhabitants of the coastal town of Marstal, in Southern Denmark, from the mid-1800s to World War II. Wide in scope and rich with detail, We, the Drowned kept me entertained for a solid week.

I was up for seafaring adventures, in fact eager for them as I was vacationing by the ocean when I read this, and the novel provided plenty of these. I was perhaps less aware of how much room
Bob Jacobs
Aug 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book - I hadn't heard of it or its author before - in a bookshop in Copenhagen when I was on holiday there earlier this summer. I liked the cover, read the blurb on the back and bought the book - even though my suitcase was already weighed down considerably by books I'd brought with me.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I've finished 'We, the Drowned' by Carsten Jensen and what an epic (I don't use that word lightly, for obvious reasons) tale this is!

'We, the Drowned' follows the s
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Carsten Jensen was born 1952. He first made his name as a columnist and literary critic for the Copenhagen daily Politiken, and has written novels, essays and travel books.

Jensen was awarded the Golden Laurels for "I Have Seen the World Begin" and the Danske Banks Litteraturpris, Denmark’s most prestigious literary award, for "We, the Drowned."


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  As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of...
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“Two drowning people can't save each other. All they can do is drag each other down.” 67 likes
“You died in the end, but you fought first.” 29 likes
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