Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen, ging, gegangen [Go, Went, Gone]


The latest addition to my website is Jenny Erpenbeck‘s Gehen, ging, gegangen [Go, Went, Gone]. This is a very timely book, as it is about the refugee crisis and is, indeed, the second book about refugees I have read recently. The other one showed that Europe (or, at least, France) was more welcoming but then the numbers were few. In this book, written before the current Syrian refugee crisis, the numbers are greater, as is the hostility towards them, both the bureaucratic hurdles they face as well as hostility from the locals. The story concerns Richard, a recently retired professor of classical philology, a former East German, a widower with no children, living in the Berlin suburbs. He almost inadvertently becomes aware of the refugee crisis, as a group of refugees from different African countries protest against their treatment, which generally means that they are not allowed to work and not granted asylum, often because of complex German and EU laws. Slowly but surely, he becomes involved with this small group, studying them but also helping them, as it is this that becomes his retirement project. Erpenbeck shows the horrors that the refugees have escaped from and the horrors they faced coming to Germany (via Libya and Italy) and makes subtle comparisons with Richard and his former East German friends who have had their problems but obviously nothing compared to the refugees. It is a well-written and well-meaning account of the situation, with Erpenbeck making it clear that she very much sympathises with the refugees and their plight. The book was considered a favourite to win the German Book Prize but it did not, beaten out by a much longer book, dealing with the Baader-Meinhof Group.

1 thought on “Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen, ging, gegangen [Go, Went, Gone]”

  1. I really enjoyed this, and I thought it was a good chance to take out the German Book Prize. A little descriptive in places, but that goes with the territory. I know Susan Bernofsky will ge geeting on to this eventually, but she’s currently busy with Yoko Tawada’s ‘ ‘Etuden im Schnee’.


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