Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two superb novellas from one of Germany's best contemporary writers, 30 Aug 2011
This review is from: The Old Child and the Book of Words (Paperback)
This book collects Susan Bernofsky's translations of two novellas or short novels, originally published in German in 1999 and 2005 respectively. Neither is appearing in English for the first time.

Jenny Erpenbeck has attracted attention recently in the English-speaking world after Bernofsky's translation of 'Heimsuchung' (as 'Visitation') was short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. A reader familiar with 'Visitation' will find the atmosphere of these two earlier novellas similar. If you are completely new to Erpenbeck, the most obvious point of similarity will be that both 'The Old Child' and 'The Book of Words' are constructed around child protagonists (though the former is a third-person and the latter a first-person narrative). In both cases the simplicity and transparency of a child's world is slowly revealed to be illusory: these are children with whom something is terribly wrong.

Erpenbeck has a real talent for establishing the reader within the comfortable familiarity of the everyday before allowing brief glimpses of the 'unheimlich' that gradually accumulate into inescapable horror. She works at least partly within an older German tradition of folk and fairy tales that mix mundanity with the bizarre in a similarly disconcerting way. Stylistically, her prose is both simple and highly wrought, exploiting the incantatory properties of repetition and the ironic possibilities of the multiple meanings of commonplace words. She rewards the reader's attention: these short books are not be rushed.

Less immediately obvious is the fact that she is a deeply political writer. Brought up in East Germany, she understands the way in which the political penetrates every aspect of social existence, especially those from which we wish it to be absent.

The two novellas deal with specifically modern German themes of memory and forgetting, guilt and complicity, identity and refusal of identity, but their resonance is not geographically restricted. Although 'The Old Child' is set in Germany, outside a city that may or may not be modern Dresden, 'The Book of Words' takes place in an unnamed South American country in which it seems that certain German exiles and tendencies may have found fertile soil. Erpenbeck's gaze is the polar opposite of the averted eye: it is a gaze that demands that we do not look away, and insists that even innocence has a price.

[235 pages, not the stated 192, including a brief Afterword by the translator about 'The Book of Words'.]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 


Review Details

Item

3.2 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (2)
4 star:    (0)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
£7.99 £6.99
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: Wales, United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 484