Friday, August 07, 2020


Visitation / Jenny Erpenbeck
trans. from German by Susan Bernofsky
NY: New Directions, 2010.
151 p.
I really like Jenny Erpenbeck; I've read two of her novels over the last year or two. I found this one in my library's online collection so jumped on it, even though I'm trying to focus on some of my own books this year! I couldn't resist this. 

It's a brief book, and quite poetic in its structure and repetition of phrases. However, the content can be quite hard-hitting. The story is focused on one house over a century of German history -- and we know that German history has had some very dark moments over the last century. 

Erpenbeck examines 12 interlocking individuals whose connections are via this house. She describes the house from its creation to its destruction; the architect who builds in in the late 19th C. to the couple who tears it down after Reunification. The family stories and individual histories cross and blend and end, both near the house and in a wider Germany. 

I feel that there needs to be a warning that there is a scene of sexual violence that is very disturbing. I'm not sure quite why it was there, but I found it really upsetting. 

The other elements are more expected -- lots of WWII and East Germany trauma, and the effects of fascism and communism. This doesn't diminish the horror of some chapters; Erpenbeck doesn't hold back from being brutally factual. 

Despite how dark this is, it's an interesting approach to a century's worth of history. The house is the pivot, but everything else spins out around it. Her writing style is also dreamy somehow, with a brief break between harder to read sections focusing on the gardener for the estate and the way that what he does never really changes over the years; it's a sense of continuity. 

I found this a powerful read, but her later novels are stronger, in my opinion. I still prefer End of Days and Go Went Gone to this one for their stories. But I'll never say no to an Erpenbeck read! 

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