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Group Reads > January 2019: 'Go, Went, Gone' by Jenny Erpenbeck

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message 1: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
Please use this thread to discuss our January read, Go, Went, Gone by German author Jenny Erpenbeck.


message 2: by Katie (new)

Katie (katierebecca) | 14 comments Mod
So excited for this one! I'm going to be reading this one both in English and its original language. It's going to be a challenge!


message 3: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Hi, my copy arrived yesterday - so far I really like our narrator, Richard - all the small details of his life, his thoughts, and descriptions of the city, his garden, lake etc. And of course his enquiry method of interaction - very open, very neutral.


message 4: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I’m so looking forward to starting this, but won’t be able to get to it until around the middle of the month. I’m looking forward to joining in with the conversation once I’ve finished it!


message 5: by Laura Anne (last edited Jan 07, 2019 06:06AM) (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) I'm stuck in this. I feel I am being gently lectured, and most of the information, and ideas reference immigrants/immigrant law is not new to me - so there is also a certain irritation. What I do find interesting, however is Richard, and his life, especially his history of German reunification told I think from his perspective of having been "cut off" on the east side until 1989, and his comparisons of a capitalist economy versus having lived through the Socialist experiment. But again his concepts of "who is right" etc. - "we are subject to systems outside of our control, and therefore in no way entitled to take credit for our Western 'wealth and development' in relation to 3rd world economies" - for me these are Very Old ideas.
I do like his observations and comparisons of E v W Germany etc. but I am becoming slightly offended at being treated like an ignoramus - I suspect this is always a problem of didactic writing no matter how it is disguised as a work of fiction.


message 6: by Laura Anne (last edited Jan 07, 2019 06:05AM) (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Because I have lived in Cyprus for 18 years and taught at colleges with a very high ratio of immigrant students I have heard so much about immigrant law and the sort of backgrounds, and life styles these "students" are desperate to escape. Chinese girls working in garment factories for 300 euros a month - wait for it - 18 hour days, and being told to sleep under their sewing machines - food only rice, pickles, no protein, nothing else.
I have heard so many first-hand encounters of the immigrant experience from the immigrant side and the host country side that I wanted nothing more than to no longer want to be involved in such a difficult and horrendous dilemma. So although I have not met many life-threatened genuine asylum seeking refugees, most of the "students" would be "economic refugees", but the word economic doesn't cover the desperation of some of these immigrants to Cyprus
However, when I was 14 I met Suzy, and her family fleeing for their lives from Iran -1976. And Anita, ditto, girls in my class at school - UK.
My ex- husband was a Cypriot refugee from the 1974 Turkish invasion. He had nothing except his pyjamas, aged 7 - his family lost everything they had on the north side.
So, when I read a book like Erpenbeck's I don't want to be Told about the refugee/immigrant experience.
My Indonesian friend Mia speaks 7 languages, but she works as a waitress in Wagamama for 4.75 euros an hour in 2018 Nicosia, Cyprus. And I could write a whole book....


message 7: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Hi Mimi, Canadian

I will carry on to the end, because Richard is overall a sensitive, and sympathetic character, but to my eyes the character is also very clearly a prop/tool representing a sort of everyman or an individual with zero experience of immigrants - which is kind of hard to imagine - so it's an odd combination. Erpenbeck chooses a professor - because she wants to emphasize intellect, open-mindedness, lack of prejudice etc. and yet I cannot imagine any professor I have ever encountered being this naive about immigrants. And also as a professor he is not exactly your everyman either - the predominant response to foreigners is ignorance and prejudice. So although he is likeable Richard is a very unrealistic "novel" character.

So, I don't like her use of the novel in this way.

It is patronising of her to a certain extent. On the other hand I did admire her analysis of the document concerning "the agreement to move from Oranienplatz" and her demonstration of how language and its use represents power "We do not approve... " etc
And her analysis of concepts about borders - how they are no longer just physical borders, but two sides with different requirements trying to represent in language what they require etc. All this is very good.

But other areas annoyed. It is a very interesting concept because of course anyone would choose a novel as opposed to a legal document etc.

So this is Mimi's point - And I very much agree - if it makes people think, and informs and educated at the same time great - I would recommend this to my son.

Anyway ladies - I'll battle on and comment once I'm done.


message 8: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Yes I just want to say to Canadian's comment about Richard "reaching out" this is a very attractive quality to this character, which is what I think allows me to keep reading.

But in real-life it is very rare. I was the only teacher who said - this is a rare opportunity for me to find out about these people and the amazing and diversified cultures and countries they come from.
The other teachers said - they are not real students, they are only interested in money because their countries are poor. They are pretending to be students, and lying to us about why they are really here. This was the attitude of about 95% of the teaching staff - mostly Cypriots.

So I had to keep my attitudes secret or risk being alienated, and at the same time try to understand my colleagues.

I was educated in the UK, in the US, and in Canada. I brought ideas and attitudes to Cyprus, which were unacceptable to my peer group. And as an outsider myself I occupied an insecure position. I learnt to keep my mouth shut. That's reality for you.

As a retired professor Richard does not need to worry about money, about losing his job, about providing for children - again he occupies a position of power and relative freedom which is unusual in real life.

So again - Erpenbeck's novel is a highly controlled: a highly fictional setup. Real life Richards are so rare as to be almost non-existent. My suspension of belief is pushed to the limits here!


message 9: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I’m really looking forward to finally being able to read the book, and joining in with this fascinating discussion.


message 10: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Richard's East German background as I said is the most interesting element for me. He comments on keeping a placard about winning a home I think in an Internet "competition" as a reflection of his own lack of capitalist enterprise. And I understood E's choice of professor as a reflection of academics having the neutral/enquiry mind set. Richard presents his project at the outset as Research, which I liked because he was taking an objective, impersonal approach I e. it wasn't a question of "what is there in this for me'. He had the academic's purist approach.
I really didn't think too much about the isolated/ivory tower academic, whose knowledge can't operate in any practical way in the "real" world. I found the academics I studied under to be highly sensitive to world and political systems - Comparative Literature insists on perceive other cultures as Comparable - not less, not more but equal and eminently worthy of study. I suppose these principles were taught to me tolerance and respect for all peoples and all cultures.
I felt I made a difference to my students' lives simply by giving respect, listening and acknowledging their differences. It essentially did not matter to me that not everyone could be "enlightened" - this would only be me - imposing which may not necessarily be useful etc.

So from this perspective I totally identify with Richard as an academic able to look and listen without judgement.

But this is extremely rare. Erpenbeck protected his position - male status, security, no dependants etc knowing that these are the requirements necessary to be able to look, to have the time, to sit and listen without judgement.

I'm on page 149. Nothing further until I have the whole story.

Adieu folks.


message 11: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) How many people are in a position to not want or not take something from someone else? I think this is what I am trying to clarify. There is an incident where R is momentarily annoyed with the "piano player", Osarobo, but he very quickly corrects himself - saying what right do I have to expect his gratitude for something that is only more killing time. Richard understands that the immigrants need, autonomy. The right to direct their lives as they can, as they wish.


message 12: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Umm, Richard I think represents an ideal, which confirms your thoughts about Erpenbeck's primary interest in concepts, and theories. Richard therefore represents a concept to which we might all aspire, but which in reality none of us are ever likely to achieve - as you say "I'm not sure there is such a thing as absolutely neutral inquiry". So we are in fact agreeing about Richard.

However, I think Richards importance as a person, as are all academics is that they voice/represent the goal. They provide the concept and make it available to others - and this is a very important, and practical element.

Poets/artists, and academics are the dreamers of society but without them how do we know what is possible - they are the originators of new ideas, new ideals - and therefore essential to all changes, and progress.

Richard is very special in that he has the theories and also applies them to reality. As you say he practices what he believes. This I applaud absolutely, but know that it is very unusual, and rare.

So essentially we are looking at the same issue but from slightly different angles - my emphasis is on the believableness of R's character. Yours seems to be more on applauding his step away from your concept of what academics traditionally represent?

Different angles I think on what we generally agree Erpenbeck's book is about - how does a society move forward? How are a plurality of view points to be represented if we recognize that all perspectives have value, and are in fact necessary for evolvement?


message 13: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Another thought - the whole argument of the books rests on this word - Autonomy. For people who have power - money, status, jobs, property etc. giving "power" to others is a very dangerous and scary concept. Nearly all societies operate on the principals of Keeping power, defending status, protecting what has been gained, inherited, collected, won, taken etc.
Richard/Erpenbeck recognises that power needs to be deconstructed. So how do you persuade anyone to relinquish ownership, to share, redistribute, acknowledge the displaced, the dispossessed?

Go, Went, Gone - if you like nuances the impossibility of changing the fundamental nature of humans. We are on a path of self-destruction? What happened to - will go, are going - ??


message 14: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Moved forward now to page 269. And yes R has become very much more human, and needy. He cried over Osarobo's possible theft etc.

I do like your points about - R's emotional reticence - yes I remember v clearly the aside about the reasons for his lover leaving him. He had too much control, too ordered etc. And thus his connections with the Oranienplatz refugees are a big emotional leap for him - yes.

Yes I do agree with "late-life emotional engagement" - exactly.

I still view academics as resources for ideas - though! And my favourite professor was a Governor General award winning poet. So I'm dreadfully biased!!

Did you like the story about Karon - such happiness to see some small measure of success. And the lawyer/owl who liked to quote Tacitus?

Will get to Erpenbeck's talk - thank you for that.


message 15: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Well now that I have actually read to the very last page I see what you both mean about R - a very distinctive final image - that blood dripping down her leg - and R hating her because "she could die".

Now I see where you are both coming from!! Mimi and CR.

Yes - we are afraid. When Cypriots here encounter immigrants - they see poverty, and this is so overwhelming fearsome that they hardly ever give themselves a chance to see anything else - the foreigners warmth, courage, generosity, kindnesses, loss, compassion, integrity, knowledge etc. etc.

Yes the lawyer's quote is wonderful, about hospitality
- "It is accounted a sin to turn any man away from your door."

Said with reference to the famed hospitality of the Teutons 2000 years ago in Tacitus' "Germania".

Yes - I don't want to find myself in a situation where there is anger or aggression. I will try to be careful who I pursue points with. You seem like a good strong player, but yes it can be very easy to miss another person's approach - to not understand their perspective, and to not seek, or ask for clarification.
Ah well - we're all human, all living and learning.

Great ending to Erpenbeck's book. I loved that none of them have a clue about the future, but their wonderful interconnectedness as a group is really shinning through - Marion, Marie, Detlef, Thomas, Rashid, Ithemba, Rufu, Apollo, Karon, Abdusalem, others I missed And Richard.

Maybe we can become a group like them!


message 16: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Hi CR - I read back through your comments, and found I agreed with everything. This format of different people joining and adding, and then returning with something else etc forms quite a disconnected experience. I think in future I will complete the book, and then make a list of things I liked/disliked, and then wait, and try to respond more precisely to other people's comments.

I mean at different stages in a book the reader has a different perspective. Richard's character started out very cerebral, and went through an immense transformation, as a result of his friendship with the Africans, and this probably was the writer's main interest.

See you soon, Laura.


message 17: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I think going forward, it might be a good rule of thumb to finish the book before commenting on its discussion thread. I’ve been keeping an eye on this conversation without having read the book, and have found it quite spoiler heavy at times.


message 18: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) In message 38 Mimi notes about Spoilers, but until this point I wasn't aware that we could not disclose information on plot, character? In other groups I noted they have 2 threads for each book, with/without spoilers or starting /finishing comments.

So sorry but I was not aware - rules need to be stated at the beginning. Also this is the first active group I join - so my experience of using the comments in this way is new.


message 19: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I’m not saying that we have to leave out details about plot and character, but please just be mindful when mentioning things which might spoil parts of the book for those who haven’t had chance to read ten yet. It’s easy enough to just hide these parts of the discussion with the ‘spoiler’ HTML so that people can read through them when they’re ready.

I’ve moderated a few groups in the past, and haven’t had this issue before, which is why I didn’t think to mention any ‘rules’, as such.


message 20: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Yes in message 40 I mention the image of the last page, this is a spoiler for sure - however it was mentioned twice by Canadian in earlier comments 16 and 32 - to which I was responding.

I think Mimi is familiar with all the rules - an old hand.

Are there any other comments of mine you consider spoilers, because I'm not really clear about what constitutes and what doesn't.


message 21: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I haven’t read any of the comments in detail following the 26th which I put up, but there are elements of character engagement and plot in preceding comments here which I wasn’t familiar with having just read the book’s blurb.

I’m not trying to cause an issue here; it just puts me off a little when so much about the book is revealed when I haven’t yet read it. I have a feeling that other members will feel the same too.


message 22: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) I also felt the same because half my comments are about the first half of the book only - and I was reading all sorts of comments from completed readings. I then read another chunk and finally the last few chapters. But I didn't know that the format must
be read the whole book and then comment. This is something I realized for myself it would be better to do for next time - from the perspective of writing comments and reading others comments. Do you see the difference?

If the general rule is please read and complete the book before Commenting - then there should be no problem with spoilers - because everyone has read - finished??

Although of course people may still READ comments before finishing their book - not sure how to save these ones - which of course brings me to the spoiler hider tool. But it's also quite difficult to decide what could be considered spoiler material and what isn't very important - I suppose there are degrees.

Also I think because you are an administrator - you are checking and reading comments to make sure everything is ok. So unfortunately your reading experience was spoiled somewhat, although I suspect most people will wait or stop reading if they see comments that reveal too much.

Anyway - I'm learning - I'm sure there will be progress. Sorry if - you are p****d off with us. Laura


message 23: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Mimi wrote: "Maybe the easier route would be to agree to read a book by a certain date then start commenting? The only readalong that I've been in before I was told off for mentioning a character's name - but w..."

Yes I was thinking along the same lines here - ie no comments until the end of January - something like that??


message 24: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I do see the difference, yes. I think going forward, I will only open the posts for discussion around the 12th of each month; that way, everyone wanting to get involved in the discussion has chance to read the book beforehand.


message 25: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Yes excellent idea - sorry to cause confusion and mayhem.


message 26: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
No problem at all, Laura; I apologise if it sounded like I was complaining! It’s just something I felt was important to flag up for discussions going forward.


message 27: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) This online format is quite complex - but I think your new arrangement will work well. Teething difficulties!


message 28: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
Yes, definitely! It’s just coming up with something which will hopefully work for everyone. Fingers crossed!

Mimi, if you look at the top of this comment thread and click the link which says ‘some html is okay’, it will show you how in there.


message 29: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Gosh - can I just say - Big Apology - to Kirsty. It does definitely say in the RULES, at the very top - please use spoilers etc.
Really, I must be daft - I didn't see that before. I am sorry. But the 12th of the month rule seems like a good idea too.


message 30: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Hi Canadian Reader - Yes you've expressed exactly what I was thinking. You/ we / I get stuck into a good debate/argument/discussion whatever - and your head is clueless about spoilers - It's the last thing to occur to you.

So Kirsty's idea to open for discussion on 12th is great - it means we can relax and not worry about spoilers.


message 31: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Yes I don't mind too much about spoilers. The pleasure for me is in the discussion.

But I do want to support Kirsty - it's not easy being the coordinator and leader.

I will pay attention to her decisions etc.


message 32: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
Canadian wrote: "Kirsty wrote: "I do see the difference, yes. I think going forward, I will only open the posts for discussion around the 12th of each month; that way, everyone wanting to get involved in the discus..."

Yes, exactly that. I’ll write a general note in the opening comment of each discussion, just saying that there may be spoilers about the book in the thread, and suggesting that they may want to read it through only once they’ve finished the book.

Thanks so much for the support and feedback, all!


message 33: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
That’s so kind; thank you so much!


message 34: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) I personally haven't a clue how to go about setting up something like this so - yes, no Kirsty, no group. And I've really enjoyed the discussions and debate. Please don't go Kirsty - we're all on our best behaviour now!!


message 35: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
Oh no, I’m not going anywhere! I’m really excited about this group; it’s already been a rewarding experience.


message 36: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Yay! Good, good.


message 37: by Katie (new)

Katie (katierebecca) | 14 comments Mod
I can finally pick my copy up from the library and so am looking forward to getting started with it this week.

I'm also really happy to see that this group is able to resolve issues with such grace and flexibility. I think starting conversations from the 12th is a great idea going forward. Thank you all--and especially to Kirsty for being such a great organiser!


message 38: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
Fantastic! I’ve just started reading it, and am making copious notes.

Thank you, that’s very kind! It’s lovely to already have so much support and understanding within the group.


message 39: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I have about 60 pages of the book to go now. I’m really enjoying reading it, and it’s giving me so much to think about.


message 40: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I've just finished the novel, and it's given me a lot of food for thought. I'm going to let it settle for a little while before typing up my review, but it should hopefully be ready early next week.


message 41: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Hi Kirsty - I'm pleased to hear you're enjoying "Go, Went, Gone" - there is plenty to chew on. Do you have any favourite bits yet?


message 42: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
The generosity which Richard, and others, displayed toward the end of the novel almost moved me to tears. One of my favourite elements was the way in which Erpenbeck draws such poignant parallels between the Ancient and modern worlds.

Mimi, I think that reproducing the reviews in each thread is a nice thing to do; it can then act as a good launchpad for a discussion. I personally find it easier to do it this way; I’m not a fan of having to click between Internet windows as frequently as I would have to in the discussion of a book if we made the choice to click on external links instead.


message 43: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I follow so many people that I often miss reviews if I don’t scroll all the way through my homepage! At least they can easily be skipped over if you’ve already read them.


message 44: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I can understand that; it gets a little overwhelming, doesn’t it? I hope all of my updates aren’t too irritating!


message 45: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
Mimi wrote: "Yours are absolutely great..."

You’re very kind; thank you.

The interaction on Goodreads is one of my favourite things about he site, but I’m aware that there’s an awful lot I miss when scrolling through. I have a lot of people who have added me as friends who I’ve never spoken to, and when I do receive comments on reviews and books which I’ve added, it’s almost always from the same handful of people. It does annoy me a little that when I comment on someone else’s review, I never receive a notification when they reply.


message 46: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
I should hopefully have some time to type up my review of the book tomorrow.


message 47: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
My review of the novel is finally typed up! It doesn't contain any spoilers.


Go, Went, Gone by German author Jenny Erpenbeck was my book club's choice for January.  I have read all of her other books which have been translated into English thus far, and find them all wonderfully strange, and highly memorable.  I was therefore looking forward to dipping into this novel, which is the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the English PEN Award.  Go, Went, Gone was also longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.  Sally Rooney has called it 'vital', and The Guardian 'profound'.  It has been translated into English by Susan Bernofsky.

The novel's protagonist is a retired University professor of Classical Philology named Richard, a man who has lived alone in Berlin since the death of his wife.  Early on in the novel, he finds 'a surprising new community on Oranienplatz - among the African asylum seekers who have set up a tent city there.'  As Richard slowly gets to know them, his life starts to change, and his own sense of belonging is thrown into question. 

The story begins on the first day of Richard's retirement, in which he finds himself cast rather adrift: 'He doesn't know how long it'll take him to get used to having time.  In any case. his head still works just the same as before.  What's he going to do with the thoughts still thinking away inside his head?'  His existence, rather than peopled with daily interactions with students and other members of staff, suddenly feels suffused with loneliness.  The inability which he now has to share his work with his peers, and with the wider community, saddens him: 'As it is, everything his wife always referred to as his stuff now exists for his pleasure alone.  And will exist for no one's pleasure when he's gone.'

I admired the way in which Erpenbeck brought together quite disparate goings on in the world, using Richard as the more focused, privileged, Western character, and placing not-so-faraway terrors in his wake.  I found the following scene rather startling: 'This isn't the first time he's felt ashamed to be eating dinner in front of a TV screen displaying the bodies of people felled by gunfire or killed by earthquakes or plane crashes, someone's shoe left behind after a suicide bombing, or plastic-wrapped corpses lying side by side in a mass grave during an epidemic.'  In this manner, and later through the individuals whom he meets, the migrant crisis is firmly embedded throughout the narrative, entwining with Richard's own life.  I also enjoyed the parallels which Erpenbeck drew between the Ancient world and the modern; for instance, the comparison made between the anonymous demonstration of migrants on Alexanderplatz, who refused to give their identities or nationalities, to the story in which Odysseus 'called himself Nobody to escape from the Cyclops's cave.'  

Erpenbeck's commentary about the Berlin Wall, which ran alongside the present-day crisis, was a forceful tool, establishing similarity between Richard and the migrants.  When Erpenbeck describes the way in which the demolition of the Wall made Berlin almost unknowable to Richard, likenesses form with the borders which the migrants he meets have to try and overcome: 'Now that the Wall is gone, he no longer knows his way around.  Now that the Wall is gone, the city is twice as big and has changed so much that he often doesn't recognize the intersections.'  With the Wall as her focus, Erpenbeck is able to mark the passing of time, as well as the changing face of both the city, and its political climate.  Instead of the 'good bookstore around the corner, a repertory cinema, and a lovely cafe' around Oranienplatz, the scene now looks more like a 'construction site: a landscape of tents, wooden shacks, and tarps: white, blue, and green...  What does he see?  What does he hear?  He sees banners and propped-up signs with hand-painted slogans.  He sees black men and white sympathizers...  The sympathizers are young and pale, they dye their hair with henna, they refuse to believe that the world is an idyllic place and want everything to change, for which reason they put rings through their lips, ears, and noses. The refugees, on the other hand, are trying to gain admittance to this world that appears to them convincingly idyllic.  Here on the square, these two forms of wishing and hoping cross paths, there's an overlap between them, but this silent observer doubts that the overlap is large.  

At the novel's opening, Erpenbeck lets us know that Richard has been shielded from the world around him - physically in terms of the marked space imposed upon him by the Berlin Wall, but figuratively too, moving as he does in the same circles and routines throughout his work, and with his wife.  In Go, Went, Gone, the refugees are given the ability to make Richard more malleable, to open his eyes to the wider world, and to shape elements of his persona.  Richard, despite his good education, job as a professor, and prior travels, was previously ignorant to such things as African geography, and could come across as ignorant.  When he meets a group of migrants for the first time, for instance, Erpenbeck writes: 'The refugees weren't all doing so badly, Richard thinks, otherwise how could this fellow be so burly?' I found some of Richard's gradual realisations quite moving; for example: 'There's something he's never thought of since these men aren't being permitted to arrive, what looks to him like peacetime here is for them basically still war.'

The novel's blurb declares that in Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck makes 'a passionate contribution to the debate on race, privilege and nationality'.  I agree with this; she certainly explores many issues which revolve around the notions of statehood and selfhood, and the difficulties which so many people have to overcome in order just to live in safety.  Reading such novels as this in our current climate, which places such emphasis on borders and boundaries, is pivotal.  The use which Erpenbeck makes of the present tense throughout just makes the realistic story which she has built feel all the more urgent.  So much of the human experience can be found within this novel.  

The only drawback of Go, Went, Gone for me is that it only features the male perspective, but perhaps this is what Erpenbeck was going for.  The few female characters here are either absent - Richard's wife, and the wives and sisters of many of the migrants - or on the periphery.  In some ways, this absence makes the book seem limiting; in others, I suppose, it is rendered more realistic, as Richard perhaps would not have been allowed the same access to female migrants.  The other slight issue that I had is with the translation; whilst I found Bernofsky's work fluid, there were some overly long, and occasionally quite muddled, sentences within the novel.

Overall, I found Go, Went, Gone poignant and highly thought-provoking; it made me give so much consideration to the world in which we live, the terrible things which humankind daily proves itself capable of, and notions of privilege.  There is a strong sense of place, and of selfhood, here, and I really did like the way in which the author has not presented Germany, or the wider Western world, as a utopia. Throughout, I found Erpenbeck's tone, and the omniscient narrative perspective, effective.  I admire the amount of themes which the author has been able to pack in.  She considers, with empathy, what it must be feel like to be an essentially stateless migrant in the modern world, and the injustices which face them on a daily basis.  Go, Went, Gone is a timely novel which I would highly recommend.


message 48: by Laura Anne (new)

Laura Anne (loranne) Great review, I certainly agree with all your points. The missing females - were something I noted. I think Erpenbeck deliberately wanted to remove any "romantic" connection between the refugees and Richard. It's touched upon v briefly towards the end when some of the men talk about relationships they've attempted with German citizens.
For me - remembering that displaced people often possess components of humanity which secure, first world residents have sometimes lost was the most important message of her book.


message 49: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty (kirstyonbooks) | 427 comments Mod
That’s a very interesting point, and I’m personally pleased that the book didn’t lapse into romance. The relationships drawn between the refugees and Richard felt realistic enough to me.

That’s such a poignant way of looking at it, Laura; it’s given me a lot of food for thought.


message 50: by Andrea (new)

Andrea (cloudbusting) Thanks for your review, Kirsty. It actually gave me more to think about as I enjoyed the book but ended up giving it a 3. I quite liked Erpenbeck’s writing,I really warmed to Richard and his relationship with the different refugees, I just wasn’t a hug fan of the ending, I thought it all wrapped up a bit too neatly.
I’d like to read more of Jenny Erpenbeck though, interesting writer.


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