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The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck

The End of Days (2012)

by Jenny Erpenbeck

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English (13)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  All (19)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
The story of several generations of a family, told with various possible endings throughout. Since the family has Jewish roots and lives in Austria-Hungary during the 1900's, the story plays out against the major events of the 20th Century. The writing captures in inner agonies and thoughts of the human condition excellently. ( )
  snash | Mar 13, 2018 |
Sheesh, this is good. Erpenbeck is my author of the year - I've loved everything I've read by her but this might possibly be my favorite - it is such an eloquent take on time, history, politics, family, geography.

A baby girl dies in the early 1900s somewhere in the Hapsburg empire. In the next chapter, that same girl lives to adolescence and dies in a murder suicide in Vienna. Following that, the girl has grown to adulthood, married and is applying for citizenship in the Soviet Union. And so forth.

Experimental fiction can be so clinical but Erpenbeck is anything but. I found her novels incredibly moving and Susan Bernofsky's translation is elegance itself. Highly recommend. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Dec 29, 2017 |
The subjunctive conditional has a lot to answer for. If A had done x then perhaps B would still be alive. It’s the kind of choice that novelists have to make all the time. Indeed it’s why we sometimes describe writing as an existential project (certainly for the character being created, and sometimes, sure, for the novelist). In this novel, Jenny Erpenbeck reneges on her responsibility to choose by simply choosing again. An infant girl dies almost inexplicably. Check that, no, she was saved at the last moment by the nearly inexplicably inspired action of her mother. That same girl dies violently as a teenager. Check that, no, she turned left instead of right and thereby failed to encounter the person who might otherwise have led her to her death. And so on, so that this infant girl makes it through to her ninetieth birthday.

But now who is this girl, this character whose morbidity is so changeable? Is she really anyone at all? Doesn’t she just become a vehicle for the passage of time as we witness what goes on in the world she passes through. In this case, given that she is born at the outset of the 20th century in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, we see her pass through the first world war, the consequences of that, the second world war, the consequences of that, including the division and eventual knitting back together of Germany. Is this what Erpenbeck wants us to focus on? And if so, why does she need that suspect subjunctive conditional? Why not just write the story of that long-lived girl from the outset? Unless she mostly wants us to be always conscious that her character might very well not have been long-lived. And what do we learn from that?

However you might feel about the structural technique employed in this novel, what must be acknowledged is Erpenbeck’s mastery of her evocative language. Ever and again, tiny motifs return and reassert themselves. All without any metaphysical trappings. I found it compelling reading, despite the purposeful distancing of the arch style during the period set in Russia. Thoughtful, sensitive, intense.

Well worth reading. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Nov 22, 2017 |
A very weird coincidence! I had just finished a book chosen for our book group which was about a woman born and brought up in Germany, who moves via Vienna and Prague to thirties Russia and after many tribulations finds her way to England. I found the sections set in Russia rather difficult to read and it diminished my enjoyment of the book overall. Then, from my reading pile of Christmas presents up pops this. A woman is born in Austria and in the course of five stories, dies five times, as an infant, as a 18 year old, in Russia in the thirties, then falling down some stairs in East Germany and finally in a nursing home at 90. This series of alternate histories are framed by a series of intermezzos discussions the what ifs of her life.
I was held and entranced by the first story, which contained some beautiful writing, and this was sustained in the second story, but once she got to Russia, I felt the writing tailed off dramatically and I found it irritating and confusing. Thankfully stories four and five recaptured my interest and my admiration for this book. A bit frustrating, yes, because it could have been so much better, I believe, but it may be that I just could not understand / appreciate that middle section. ( )
  johnwbeha | Jun 8, 2017 |
Essentially, this is the ubiquitous "20th century German history novel", looking at two world wars, the Holocaust, and the rise and fall of communism through episodes in the life of a character whose life-span covers most of the century. The central character obviously draws to some extent on the life-story of Erpenbeck's grandmother, the communist poet and playwright Hedda Zinner (also born in pre-WWI Galicia, a party member in the 20s and 30s, exiled in Russia during the Nazi period, lived in East Germany from 1945, and died not long after the Wende).

With a few extra complications thrown in - a Jewish grandmother, a couple of absent fathers, and some interesting locations - this would have given most German novelists more than enough material for a 600-page epic (or 1200 if it was Günther Grass). Erpenbeck does it - very elegantly - in under 300, and makes it all much more interesting by bringing in a risky structural device in which the fully developed story-line in each episode turns out to be a "what if it all ended here?" dead end, with an intermezzo before the next section of the book to sketch out a simpler version of the story that allows us to go on to the next episode. She uses this to explore the arbitrary, chancy nature of real life - or, more to the point, of death - and its contrast to the organising power of narrative. It sounds like a gimmick, but I found it works surprisingly well. And someone who writes as well and elegantly as Erpenbeck can probably get away with almost anything...

The book does have its quirks, but I found them endearing rather than off-putting. Erpenbeck obviously doesn't much like giving her characters names, which makes the first part of the story rather hard work for the reader, because we don't have one single point of reference and the character who is "die Mutter" in one paragraph can easily become "die Tochter" or "die Großmutter" in the next, as we shift to a different point of view. It's worth persevering, though, because the characters become less generic as we go on (by the last chapter, the central character has even acquired a surname!). And of course she's a director, so, as in Heimsuchung, there's a lot of business with stage-props of various kinds. If you say in the first chapter that there's an edition of Goethe on the wall, then - well, you know how it goes. ( )
3 vote thorold | Sep 7, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jenny Erpenbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernofsky, SusanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We left from here for Marienbad only last summer. And now--where will we be going now? (W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz)
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The Lord gave, and the Lord took away, her grandmother said to her at the edge of the grave.
Wie beslist met welke gedachten de tijd wordt gevuld? (in tweede intermezzo) - Who decides with which thoughts time will be filled?
Maar zelfs als hij alles wist over het laatste ogenblik waarop zijn moeder nog leefde, wist hij toch niet wat het betekende dat ze nu dood was.
( But even if he knew all about the moment when his mother was still alive all he wouldn't know what it meant that she was dead.)
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Consists essentially of five "books," each of which leads to a different death for an unnamed woman protagonist. How could it all have gone differently? the narrator asks in the intermezzos between. The first chapter begins with the death of a baby in the early twentieth-century Hapsburg Empire. In the next chapter, the same girl grows up in Vienna, but her strange relationship with a boy leads to another death. In the next scenario, she survives adolescence and moves to Russia with her husband. Both are dedicated Communists, but our heroine is sent to a labor camp. She is spared in the next chapter with the help of someone's intervention and returns to Berlin to become a respected writer.… (more)

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