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Visitation [Paperback]

Jenny Erpenbeck , Susan Bernofsky
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

7 July 2011
By the side of a lake in Brandenburg, a young architect builds the house of his dreams - a summerhouse with wrought-iron balconies, stained-glass windows the colour of jewels, and a bedroom with a hidden closet, all set within a beautiful garden. But the land on which he builds has a dark history of violence that began with the drowning of a young woman in the grip of madness and that grows darker still over the course of the century: the Jewish neighbours disappear one by one; the Red Army requisitions the house, burning the furniture and trampling the garden; a young East German attempts to swim his way to freedom in the West; a couple return from brutal exile in Siberia and leave the house to their granddaughter, who is forced to relinquish her claim upon it and sell to new owners intent upon demolition. Reaching far into the past, and recovering what was lost and what was buried, Jenny Erpenbeck tells an exquisitely crafted, stealthily chilling story of a house and its inhabitants, and a country and its ghosts.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846271908
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846271908
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 284,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


One of the finest, most exciting authors alive - In Visitation, the achievement and resonance are massive - The amount of emotional engagement Erpenbeck manages to win from us, in a mere 150 pages, is just one proof of her mastery. An extraordinarily strong book by a major German author, ingeniously translated, produced with love. Michel Faber, Guardian

About the Author

JENNY ERPENBECK is author of The Old Child & The Book of Words, published by Portobello. Her fiction is published in fourteen languages.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too mannered for my liking 1 Sep 2011
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I liked Jenny Erpenbeck's "The Old Child" (see my review), but was often irritated by "Visitation", by the "poetic" prose with its mannerisms (including many commas where there should be full stops) and repetitiveness, by the pointlessly unchronological nature of the narrative particularly pointless, and by the rather arch way in which explanations are delayed or occasionally withheld altogether. Most of the characters are given no names, so it often takes time to work out to whom "he" or "she" refers; and in any case only a few of them are interesting or have any personality.

That said, there are a couple of graphic and powerful passages.

On a plot of land on the banks of a beautiful lake east of Berlin is sold off some time before 1933 in three parcels: one to a Jewish clothmaker who builds a house on it; the second to a Berlin architect who does likewise; a third to a coffee and tea importer. The novel then describes (as I said, it unchronological order), the harrowing fate of the Jewish family; the architect acquires their house, too. (We are never told what happens on the third plot). Then the war breaks out; and by the end of it the Russians reach the area: the architect was away at the time, but his wife was not.

Other tenants and sub-tenants float through the properties, each with their own story of what had happened to them under the Third Reich, the war, the DDR, or after reunification. The only continuity is the natural scenery, represented, I thought, by the taciturn Gardener who appears in every other chapter and whose seasonal activities are described repetitively.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted parable 2 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written and haunting novella that captures the essence of German history over the last century. The rise of nazism, the fate of Jewish citizens, and the tyranny of the Soviet era rule (in East Germany) is captured in a unique manner by Jenny Erpenbeck. This is a story that lingers on after you've turned the last page. The focus of most of the story is a place, a location ("someone who builds something is affixing his life to the earth"); and apart from one character, the gardener, the story of Germany's 20th century history unfolds in this one place: a wood, a lake and a community. Yet the mood of the writing is so wonderful and evocative that you are drawn into the lives of the characters. Simply stunning.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting German novel of time and place 16 May 2011
By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER
'Visitation' is Susan Bernofsky's excellent translation of Jenny Erpenbeck's novel 'Heimsuchung', published in German in 2008. 'Heimsuchung' does indeed mean 'visitation' - a formal visit - but also 'plague', 'affliction' and 'infestation'. All these meanings will prove to have resonance. In English even 'visitation' itself, with its secondary meaning of 'haunting', has its premonitory side.

The place that we visit with Erpenbeck is a plot of lakeside ground in Germany that in the course of the novel and nearly a century of recent history passes through a number of hands and is the site of repeated building and rebuilding - the making and unmaking of a succession of homes. 'Heimsuchung' - literally 'a study or investigation of home' - is the underlying theme of the book.

Erpenbeck approaches her subject obliquely, in a succession of short chapters that each focus on a single character or family and their relationship to this piece of ground. In spite of the overt drama of historical events - the two wars, the rise of Hitler, the Russian occupation, the rise and fall of Communist East Germany - and their consequences for those who occupy this place, it is the place itself that emerges as the most powerful character of all.

This preoccupation with the existential relationship between human beings and the places in which they choose to live has deep roots in German thought. Heidegger, for one, seems to lie behind some of the author's patient descriptions of topography and the gardener's tasks and the themes that emerge from this act of attention. The slow rhythmic accumulation of detail, the steady deepening of emotion and the quiet way in which absolute horror emerges from the everyday reminded me of W. G. Sebald, and also of Walter Abish, author of 'How German Is It?'.

This is a book of great but quiet accomplishment that rewards slow reading.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snippets of life... 29 Nov 2010
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Jenny Erpenbeck has written "Visitation", a short book of 12 snippets - almost short stories - but all about the same vacation villa located outside Berlin. Beginning in the 1930's - though with a short section about the mayor of the town the villa is located in and his four unmarried daughters from earlier - and ending in the 1990's after the fall of East Germany's Communist government, the villa provides the meeting point in spirit and flesh of those who've lived there. German Jews, some of whom had emigrated to South Africa when the going was good, have left memories of their lives, along with an architect who lived in the house during the Nazi years with his second wife. The architect was proud that he had paid the emigrees fully half of the value of the house, rather than expropriating it outright.

Erpenbeck's time line is not lateral and neither is the history of the house. The stories are held together by short snippets about "The Gardener", an itinerant who has handled the gardening chores in the villa and several surrounding ones. "Visitation" is not an easy read, but it is a good one. The book I can best compare it to is "The Glass Room", a novel about a real house in Brno, Czech Republic, and the many people and their stories who had lived there since the 1920's.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Over ambition and pretention
This book tries to be too clever, with characters that are unnamed, a timeline that darts all over the place and constant repetition of language as if it wants to be poetry. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Barbara Collis
2.0 out of 5 stars Not all it's cracked up to be
An interesting work of fiction written against German history from about 1900 to 1990. However this book hardly rates the rave reviews that it's had so far. Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2011 by John Reardon
4.0 out of 5 stars More German History Rendered Afresh
Over recent years a number of German writers have come to prominence through translation of their work into English. Read more
Published on 27 Mar 2011 by Herman Norford
5.0 out of 5 stars `Until the time comes when a different house will be built on this...
.. resembles itself once more.'

The central character of this novel is not a person, but a place. Read more
Published on 19 Mar 2011 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything is transient ...
An elegant and enigmatic novel about an area of land in East Germany where a house is built and the people who live in that house from before the second world war to after the... Read more
Published on 29 Dec 2010 by P. Millar
5.0 out of 5 stars "Colourful is only that what she can still remember, surrounded by...
"... her head [...] carries colourful memories, memories of somebody, who she was. Probably was. Who was she? Whose head was her head? Who owns the memories? Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2010 by Friederike Knabe
1.0 out of 5 stars Lost in translation
The idea is a good one, but perhaps something has been lost in the translation. It's tedious and rambling, could have been so much better.
Published on 17 Nov 2010 by leicesterlass
2.0 out of 5 stars You had your time there
This house and its inhabitants, plus the timeless gardener, provide endless passages and interwoven threads - a clever concept but it did not work for me. Read more
Published on 15 Nov 2010 by Singapore Relic
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