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Aller Tage Abend by Jenny Erpenbeck

Aller Tage Abend (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Jenny Erpenbeck

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2051457,211 (4.03)33
Title:Aller Tage Abend
Authors:Jenny Erpenbeck
Info:Knaus Albrecht (2012), Hardcover
Collections:Read but unowned

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The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck (2012)



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English (9)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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. ( )
1 vote thorold | Sep 7, 2016 |
A very big story for such a short novel. With so many overlong books published these days, it's good to have a story spanning the lives of one family across the 20th century told with such economy. It uses the same conceit as Kate Atkinson in 'Life after Life' - reversing time to go back and bring someone back to life or change some dramatic life-changing event to see how the story changes. A very effective and moving book. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
It was a friend who recommended this novel – and while people recommend books pretty much all the time, something about this one sounded like it might appeal. So I bunged it on my Amazon wishlist, and was subsequently given it as a Christmas present. The back-cover blurb makes explicit comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (a book I very much liked, and, in fact, nominated for a Hugo, during my one and only attempt at nominating for the Hugo), but the novel The End of Days reminds me of the most is Katie Ward’s Girl Reading, another book unknown to me until someone recommended it… and which turned out to the best book I read that year. Plotwise, Atkinson’s novel is certainly a closer match, given that The End of Days describes the life of a woman born in Galicia in the latter days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and her life throughout the twentieth century as she survives WWI, joins the Communist Party in Vienna, moves to Moscow, and then Berlin, and becomes a famous East German writer. As in, that’s it in the final section in which she lives a long and eventful life. Earlier sections cut it short at various junctures. The writing throughout is stunningly good, the structure is very carefully built up, and this is one of the most impressive books I’ve read so far this year. I fully expect it to make my best five of the half-year, if not the year. I also want to read more by Erpenbeck. ( )
  iansales | Apr 3, 2016 |
This strange and beautiful -- and sad -- book explores the mutability of time and history, working through the horrors of twentieth century Europe. The structural device is simple: the author shuffles the cards at the moment when the central character dies, and examines the "what if" of choices made differently that would not have lead to the death. This starts with the death of a baby of a young Jewish woman in the Habsburg Empire -- the mother mourns, the husband leaves, but -- what if the baby hadn't died? Then, we move forward with the story of the undead baby, the unleaving husband, the contented wife, until the end of the War brings disaster to Vienna, and the grown up daughter dies a sort of suicide, but -- what if she hadn't despaired? And so on and so on. Some of the choices that push the character towards death or away from it are profound, others trivial in the extreme. The book ends with the character in an old age home, slipping towards a death that, this time, can't be shuffled away.

This isn't a straight linear read, but the characters are alive, and one has the momentum of history to keep the pages turning. I thought it was beautifully written, and found the story touching. In some way, despite the sadness of so much of the story, it is tremendously life affirming: there is an extraordinary amount of detail about things and people, showing the richness, as well as the pathos, of life. ( )
1 vote annbury | Mar 24, 2016 |
This is a profoundly moving book, a poetic reflection on the fragility of life and the endurance of the human spirit which follows the life of a woman through the traumas and upheavals of twentieth century Europe, from Austria to East Berlin via Moscow. In each section of the book, alternative scenarios are explored in which small and apparently random events lead to her early death, and the story often moves focus between global events and deeply personal experiences. ( )
1 vote bodachliath | Mar 1, 2016 |
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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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