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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unflinching portrayal of the unknowable girl from a new literary sensation, 14 Mar. 2007
By 
D. Winchester "atomic83" (Bushey, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Old Child (Hardcover)
You've read Kafka, and you've heard of a thousand Kafka imitations. Jenny Erpenbeck is neither of these, yet she embodies perfectly the shadowy and mind-spinning Kafka-esque world in a pristine way, a frankly insistent way that sets her apart from any other current writer. The Old Child is a startlingly bracing story, a book that begins simply and ends simply, yet one that prods and prods at you until you are completely overwhelmed.

The `old child' is a girl who is simply found; no one knows her name, and she does not remember where she came from. She is placed in an orphanage, where she is utterly out of place: she towers over her classmates in height as well as width, she understands nothing school-related, and answers no question unless it can be answered with one word - a `yes' or a `no'. The sense of mystery that surrounds her builds and builds until we are no longer sure that she is a child at all.

What Erpenbeck does so well is convey an outlook on life that is so familiar to so many, yet remains so rarely represented in the history of literature. The child simply wants to exist, in a place where no one expects anything of her. So she is utterly dumb before her teachers, so much so that the staff give up on her; she sits among her classmates in social gatherings, but never says anything at all. All this is gathered by Erpenbeck into an unflinching, subtle portrayal of a character we ache to really get to know.

And, if you are deliberating between editions, you would do well to plump for the gorgeous little hardback from Portobello Books, who have obviously packaged this with unremitting care and devotion.

Erpenbeck is quite simply a fresh literary sensation, a bright writing star who, if not for her German origin, would already be squeezing her svelte volumes onto every `with it' bookshelf in Britain and the US. The Old Child is our first exposure to her, and it should be caressed in a way that all literary masterpieces are.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sad but gripping novella, 5 Nov. 2010
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Old Child (Hardcover)
What a lot of loneliness and isolation is packed into these mere 122 small-format pages! It is about a girl - never named because she does not remember her own name and nobody appears interested in giving her one. Supposed to be 14 years old, she was delivered to a children's home because she was found in the street, unable to say where she had come from. She is huge and ungainly for her age; she appears so ignorant and so unable to learn that the teachers give up on her. For much of the book the other children either make fun of her or, more commonly, simply ignore her presence. But the girl has a a strange and complicated inner life which Erpenbeck conveys very well. If I were to describe it, it would give too much of the book away. Just about half way through the book, the other children do find a role for her and she appears to be less isolated as a result - again I must not go into details. The girl is so strange that it is hard to think of her portrait as being realistic - but Erpenbeck's description of her is all the same utterly convincing, except for the ending, which has a surrealistic quality.

It is a sad but gripping book. The style is sparse and beautifully translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. (A review on the German Amazon site suggests that it may actually be harder to read in the original German than it is in English.)
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5.0 out of 5 stars 'The Old Child Jenny Erpenbeck, 8 Dec. 2010
By 
Mr. J. N. Plant (Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs.UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Old Child (Hardcover)
I'm not sure which Guardian's Review critic alerted me to this book but it is quite remarkable. We are saturated by Americana and British sub-standard books that it is so pleasing to find this admirable German book. The standard of translation in this country has always been high, this was very good.
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The Old Child
The Old Child by Jenny Erpenbeck (Hardcover - 1 Dec. 2006)
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