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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 June 2010
This is truly an epic tale, covering nearly a century from 1848, when Laurids Madsen and other men of the small Danish Baltic town of Marstal go to war to fight the Germans, up to the end of the second world war. The main focus is on Laudris' son Albert Madsen, whose sea-faring adventures include shipwrecking and cannibal attacks as he searches for his lost father and in so doing realises more about his own self. On his return he establishes himself as a sea captain and ship owner, and in old age, befriends the second main character, Knud Erik Friis, a small boy who grows up to become a sailor himself against his mother's wishes. It is through his eyes that we see the Second World War, as he becomes a man and, along with other Marstal natives, fights against the Nazis.

We follow Albert through nearly his entire life, and watch Knud grow up. For most of the book there is the almost ghost like narration of an unseen chorus, the "we" of the title that just adds to the novel's captivating tone. The other main voice of the author is the middle part of this huge book told in the first person by Albert himself as he quests to find his father. This is just as well-written.

There's a strong supporting cast as well including Knud's childhood friend Anton, the Terror of Marstal, Klara, Knud's slightly scary mother, Herman the Seagull Killer, and Albert's captain Jack Lewis. And then of course, there's the sea with it's promise of riches and adventure and ever-present threat of death ....

The book is an epic in every sense. It's sprawling, far reaching and encompassing a variety of kinds of stories. It's an adventure story, a romance, a coming-of-age story, a war tale, a drama, and a comedy. But what stands out is the quality of the writing. And the final pages are sublime. It may be a monster in length, but it's never dull and gripping throughout. Surely a candidate for this year's literary prizes? I cannot recommend this highly enough.
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on 26 May 2012
Until recently, my reading has been restricted to non-fiction during a research project and this book probably gained something in my estimation because of this. I bought it about a year ago and have been itching to read it as I found the subject matter appealing, which was confirmed when I read a few random passages prior to purchase. I was also attracted by the interesting cover design and blueing on the pages made it stand out in the historical fiction section of the book shop.

I had thought that I may have built it up too much in my mind due to this long wait but 'We, The Drowned' did not disappoint me. In fact, it exceeded my expectations and is a marvellous book. Jensen writes in a deceptively simplistic style that makes it a very easy read. Indeed, I was surprised that it was translated from Danish as the narrative flows so well in English and I think Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder (Jensen's translators) deserve a mention for their excellent work in this regard.

I found the subject matter utterly compelling with a selection of stories and different characters covering the period between 1848-1945. The first 200 pages were fantastic and, while it slowed a little after that, it rapidly regained pace when the character of Knud Erik became the main focus of the narrative.

The storyline covers an immense range of topics (including three major wars) but excels when it comes to examining the characters and motives of the main protagonists. The fact that I missed some characters (such as Laurids and Albert Madsen) as they fell by the wayside reveals what a good job the author has done in this regard. Jensen doesnt shy away from tales of violence, war, murder, loss and cruelty in this book and they exert a disturbingly magnetic appeal. Yet there is also a great deal of humour concerned and this combination makes his work a fascinating and exciting read.

This is an incredible book that covers a wide range of subject matter in epic fashion. At 693 pages, some readers might find it's size intimidating but the text is easily good enough to sustain the reader's interest throughout. Indeed, I read it avidly and my only disappointment is that it wasn't longer.

Jensen deserves the excellent reviews he has received and this may well become a classic as some reviewers have already commented. This is an exceptional historical novel and deserves to do very well indeed.
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on 29 October 2011
I am a middle aged woman and I bought this book second hand as I was going on a week to Denmark and wanted something topical. The subject was not one I would ever have dreamt of picking up. I was dreading having to read it and put it off until I was in the plane to C'hagen with nothing else to read. I never read mariner stories and thought I had very little interest in them or in the sea. I avoid boats and waves at all costs. But this book is fabulous. I really can't recommend it highly enough. Beautifully written, gripping not just with sea adventures, but with an enormous scope....of human lives, motivations and morality. It will be a classic. I can't do it justice. Pick it up and read it. Every time I put it down I would bore my whole family with how it is the best book that I have ever read, and I read a lot!!
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on 2 June 2010
An epic tale describing the lives and jouneys of sailors from the small but very important port of Marstall in Denmark. Not for the feint hearted, it proved to be a very hard life at sea for the young men who really had no other choice. Perhaps one of the best novels coming out of Denmark in the last 25 years.
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on 17 July 2010
This was not at all the book I was expecting, but it ended up as a very readable novel relating the history of three generations of sailors from one town in Denmark, from the mid 1800s to the end of the Second World War. At the very beginning it seemed all fantasy or myth, and I felt the book might not be for me, but as I went on it emerged as the moving, funny and tragic tale of a series of wonderfully stoic people. Their adventures could have been far-fetched but somehow didn't feel that unlikely. In fact at the end, which was the point when I almost burst into tears, I wanted to know what would happen next. My grandfather was Danish and I know a little of the history of that nation and I feel that Mr Jensen had really done his homework on the people and town of Marstal. A great read.
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on 18 January 2012
I can only concur with the previous reviews. I hadn't read anything by Jensen before but having read the reviews and one in a paper, I was intrigued. And what a read. Majestic in its sweep yet intimate and human to the core. Can I also commend the translator: not an easy book to translate. Look forward to reading more by Jensen.
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on 29 January 2015
The story of life in Marstal, a Danish seafaring town, from 1848 to 1945, told through the stories of four people, three seafarers and one widow of a seafarer, who undergo the hardships of this life - wars including the two world wars, bullying first mates who can and do cause the deaths of those they're in charge of if they don't like them, bullying schoolteachers, and the ongoing bereavements suffered by women left behind in the town when the men have gone to sea. Then there are the intrinsic dangers of seafaring, notably on the Newfoundland route - very dangerous and the kind of life left to sailing ships when only ports like this haven't dredged and become suitable for diesel vessels. The story is told by a sort of Greek chorus consisting of the drowned of the town - this sound affected but actually it works really we'll...

The male characters are vividly brought to life and so is something of the life of the town - the town breakwater symbolises for one of the four heroes the kind of collective spirit that has enabled Marstal to grow and succeed. The plot is episodic in the nature of things, but the episodes are all enjoyable and inventive - you can never tell what will happen next and you want to find out. And no episode outstays its welcome. Indeed I was sad to reach the end of this book.

I found it a little less persuasive in its portrayal of the women and the anti-seafaring strategy of Kara Friis who tries hard to put an end to the business of seafaring in the town through a strategy of benign neglect of the opportunities for modernisation. (There are surely and obviously better strategies, like introducing alternative industry or opportunities to the town and it seems just unpersuasive that this wouldn't occur to her….)

Overall, however, I enjoyed this a great deal and would recommend it strongly to others.
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on 12 September 2014
The wonderful thing about this novel is that it is properly situated in history, and so it feels very real. The reference point is the town of Marstal in AEro in Denmark, and the book follows the known maritime history, involvement in wars etc of this place. This is valuable in a long-running historical novel, since over the course of 100 years or so, the reader gets to know Marstal and its people, industry and so on - it becomes one of the characters in a way.

The story follows a small number of protagonists over 3 generations, on voyages to the south pacific, Van Dieman's land, England, the trans-Atlantic convoy route, and other places besides, all replete with historical detail, including the effects of going from sail to steam to modern diesel ships.

However, the novel isn't about explaining history. It's about sailors (and not just men), their ideas about life, their love stories, being Danish in a world dominated by much larger countries, as well as about the families and wives who regularly lose their sons and husbands.

The middle part concerning the 2nd world war reminded me of Nicholas Montsarrat's 'The Cruel Sea' (a definitive story of the horrors of war at sea).

We, the Drowned is funny, emotive, and very educational.
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on 30 October 2012
I like this book, or at least, I found it interesting and found it hard to put to put down until I had finished the last page. Was I entertained by it? No, I don't think I was. Was it compelling? Absolutely. I liked it, I didn't love it. Having said that, I can recall the entire book which is more than I can say for many, many books I have read over the years.
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on 23 April 2011
`We, the Drowned' is the third novel by acclaimed Danish literary critic Carsten Jensen. It's one of those perfect books that leave almost nothing to be desired. First of all, this is a plot-driven novel, a characteristic that easily propelled it to the top of the book charts in its native Denmark.

Having said this, forget about those thrashy bestellers that offer cheap thrills mediated through awful prose: `We, the Drowned' is exquisitely written (I'm sure part of the credit should go to the brilliant translation by Charlotte Barslund) and it brims with insight into human nature.

A great plot delivered through fine prose. We might throw in `ambition' as well and, boy, this novel surely isn't lacking in that departement either. If this was by an American author, I'd be temped to call it a great `American Novel', a fat book that uses the sweet bait of an engaing tale to give you an insightful history lesson. Well, the novel works in a similar way, only you'll be learning about the history of Denmark.

Set in Marstal, once a flourishing shipping town full of fleets and dockyards, the tale spans a century of Danish history, from 1844 to 1845. It is told through the eyes and the adventures of several of its inhabitants (most of whom are connected in some way). It basically starts by depicting the seafaring adventures (one of which involves the shrunken head of James Cook) of several sailors and then goes on to recount, among other things, the upbringing of local children, the cunning plan of a widow to eradicate Marstal's seafaring vocation, a con man's clash with the Stock Market, the decline of sailing in favour of steamers and both World Wars.
Marstal is either where most of the characters are from or where they end up but this is a seafaring novel and, as such, you'll get to travel around quite a bit, from Greenland to Australia, from England to some godforsaken island, from Portugal to the African coasts.

We are talking about close to 700 pages yet the author ensures that this will be a hell of a joyride for the whole lenght of it.

Could I possibly pay a higher compliment?
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