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We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

We, the Drowned (original 2006; edition 2011)

by Carsten Jensen, Charlotte Barslund (Translator), Emma Ryder (Translator)

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8673310,272 (4.15)62
Title:We, the Drowned
Authors:Carsten Jensen
Other authors:Charlotte Barslund (Translator), Emma Ryder (Translator)
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 688 pages
Collections:Your library

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We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)

  1. 10
    The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (Jannes)
    Jannes: Proulx focuses on one particular and personal fate, Jensen writes about a whole town in the voice of a vague, collective "we". The former places her story in modern-day Newfoundland, the later in 19th and early 20th century Denmark. What they have in common is the ever-present sea, its influence and demands, and how the people that relies on if for sustenance has learned to accept its whims and live with the consequences of a life at sea.… (more)
  2. 00
    In the Wake by Per Petterson (Limelite)
    Limelite: Norwegian writer; tragedy at sea but psychodrama, not saga. While an internal novel without the brutality of war, the atmosphere of Scandinavian love-hate relationship with cold seas is here.

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» See also 62 mentions

English (24)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  English (33)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
What an incredible book. Horrifying and hopeful in equal measure. It is a fiction, but it is born out of fact. Jensen has researched the history of Danish shipping town Marstal and woven a beautiful tale of all that is good and bad in humanity. I didn't think I was going to enjoy it at first. The opening chapter seemed flippant. However, once more characters were introduced and Jensen's almost Conradian understanding of humanity took hold, I was completely gripped. It is a tale spanning 100 years of a town's history, and a story of how people deal with their moments of ugliness through fellowship. I loved it. ( )
  missizicks | Oct 1, 2015 |
Reading this book took a long time, but it was worth it. We, the Drowned is a novel spanning 100 years, or roughly three generations, of a Danish seafaring town, Marstal. In so doing, the narrative often, perhaps about half the time, takes us out onto the ships with the Marstal sailors. There is much description of hardship, cruelty and war at sea. But also we see the lives of those ashore, the women and families awaiting fathers, husbands and sons who are often gone for years at a time or who never return at all. Each generation has its war. The opening scenes in the late 1800s bring us aboard a warship as civilian sailors are drafted to fight in war against a German province revolting against Danish rule. World War One, however, is seen mostly through the eyes of a retired sailor whose vivid dreams show him the trials and deaths of the Danish merchant marines undergoing attacks from German U-Boats who respect not at all Denmark's official neutrality in the conflict. Then throughout World War Two we are aboard a merchant steamer traveling in convoys across the North Atlantic awaiting torpedoes and dive bombing Stukas. As important and vivid as their scenes are to the story, we also see the sailors at war against the sea itself and, occasionally, against sadistic ships' officers. We also see several characters through their lives, with experiences from childhood through old age related in very readable detail. Through it all, the town of Marstal itself is the constant protagonist, with the town's changing fortunes and position among seafaring towns affecting the sailors' experiences as they travel. Jensen manages this in a very interesting manner. Many of the stories of events that take place in town are narrated by an occasionally appearing, unnamed "we," as in, "We listened to his stories in the bar, not knowing what to think." This never specified "we" pops up unchanged throughout the generations, creating the effect of an unbroken continuum across the years. I suppose that could have been distracting, but, for me, it worked quite well to create an interesting effect. The book, in my edition, is 690 pages long. There are some slower stretches, certainly. But overall, I found this to be a work of of often mesmerizing storytelling, a grand tale about the human condition. ( )
  rocketjk | Feb 7, 2015 |
It's worth noting, in the first place, how I found this book. A year or two ago, I was looking around my favourite bookshop, telling myself to buy something I wouldn't normally buy. 'We, the Drowned' jumped out at me when I walked past it, and it's not hard to see why -- look at that cover! I bought it and, typically, it had been sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust until about a month ago, when I finally decided to conquer it.

'We, the Drowned' is set in Marstal, a small town in Denmark with a centuries long history of seafaring. It spans about 100 years, from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of World War II. It can be hard for the first few hundred pages to decipher what exactly the book is about, but it became clear to me that this was less the story of a few individuals in a small Danish town, and more the story of Denmark as a whole and the way it has been shaped by European history.

This book spends roughly half its time at sea and half its time in Marstal. When at sea, it's very much your typical seafaring adventure, and the tales of corrupt sailors, dangerous storms and incredible lands would be enough to excite anyone. Back home in Marstal, we see a lot of character development take place, and we also see the conflicts between tradition and modernity, and between the men who are desperate to sail and the women who are terrified to lose them.

Manhood is a central theme in 'We, the Drowned', and this is reflected very well in Jensen's writing style, which is dry and succinct, and translates incredibly well into English. This style is something really remarkable about the book, as it perfectly conveys the mentalities of the main characters. However, it does have some limitations: the female characters in the book can seem at times awkward and unrealistic, and their dialogue is often rather stilted. Compared to the heroes of the novel, Jensen seems to have difficulty making the women of the book likable or even particularly interesting.

On the whole, though, this is a very good book. At nearly 700 pages, it's an investment, but it is an enjoyable and rewarding novel that is held together by prose that is itself full of character. Definitely a great start to my year in terms of reading! ( )
  Jane.Elinor | Jan 11, 2015 |
I have decided that 2014 is not going to be the year that I try to get twenty books off my "to-read" list. It's going to be the year that I read long books. We, the Drowned is the first of my epics, and it is a dandy.

About a year ago I was sequestered in a hotel somewhere in LA waiting for Brian to audition for The Voice. There was a lot of down time and a lot of together time with Brian and at one point he said that he was ready to read an epic. Coincidentally, We, the Drowned was the next day's Kindle Daily Deal and it was described as a story "spanning over a hundred years," so I bought it for both of us on just that recommendation alone. It took me 10 months to start it; I shouldn't have waited so long.

The book is the story of the Danish town of Marstal and its people, many of them sailors whose livelihood depends on the sea. But the sea is fickle and many never return. The story begins in 1848 as Denmark and Germany go to war and for the next century follows the fortunes of men who board the large ships that leave Marstal and the women left behind.

The narrator of the book uses the pronoun we to tell the story of these men. At first I found that distracting but as the stories rolled on I began to see the point and by the end of the book I loved that Jensen used that technique. How else does a town refer to itself?

This book really grew on me. I had trouble finding the rhythm of the book at the beginning and then about a third of the way through I found myself wishing for free time with my Kindle so I could read some more. When I finished I went back and reread the beginning (that never happens) and I appreciated it so much more than on my initial reading.

Really great book! Highly recommended! ( )
2 vote spounds | Jul 29, 2014 |
Quite some time ago, I lived in a port that was visited annually by the remnants of the Portuguese White Fleet, a group of fishing vessels built for the age of sail, but modified for motors. The whole town looked forward to the arrival of these beauties. I've lived a good part of my life in another port, which annually observes Battle of the Atlantic Sunday to honour both combatants of the armed forces, and the so called non combatants who made up the Merchant Navy, who together formed the convoys supplying Allied Europe during World War II. The golden age of sail and the Atlantic convoys bookend the time span of We, The Drowned. Although the port in this case was Marstal, Denmark, all true ports have the same feel, so I felt right at home reading it.

The book opens in 1848, with a skirmish between Denmark and Schleswig Holstein. Laurids Madsen "...went up to heaven and came down again because of his boots." These boots will take on a mythical quality over generations for the seafaring people of Marstal. One of the ways this sense of myth is generated is by the frequent use of a first person plural narration, but the "we" telling the story is not the adults of Marstal, who might think they know it all; rather it is a succession of young boys who do much of the narration, with their necessarily imperfect knowledge of events, new ones gradually replacing those who grow up.

These boys know the world is the sea, that when they grow up Marstal will be the place to which they will return after each voyage if they are lucky, but that the sea will be their life. Marstal is for women, children, and seamen who have survived long enough to earn a berth on shore. The boys know some of them will drown, know their apprenticeship will be awful, but as small boys, they can't wait for the adventure of it all.

Much of the book revolves around Albert Madsen, four years old when his papa tru failed to return. Albert became one of Marstal's most successful citizens and his voyages were legendary. Then there were the stories about him and Captain Cook, a topic no one dared mention in his presence. On a voyage serving under one of fiction's most evil captains, Albert had time to reflect on what the sea means. His description is like no other: There comes a time in the life of a sailor when he no longer belongs ashore. It's then that he surrenders to the Pacific, where no land blocks the eye, where sky and ocean mirror each other until above and below have lost their meaning, and the Milky Way looks like the spume of a breaking wave and the globe itself rolls like a boat in the midst of the sinking and heaving surf of that starry sky, and even the sun is nothing but a tiny glowing dot of phosphorescence on the sea of the night.
As time goes by, Jensen replaces Albert with another young boy, the hellion Anton Hay. Even as the seagoing cycle repeats itself though, it changes inexorably. Sail is replaced with steam, steam with coal. The rhythm of the sailing life with its winter furloughs is replaced by year round commerce, as ships powered by engines are better able to withstand winter storms than those powered by sail. Wars come, one after another, and seafaring becomes something to be survived, there is nothing else involved in it.

Not everyone in Marstal is caught up by the sea. Just a mile or two inland are the farmers, seen as conservative and unimaginative by those who venture far from land. Farmers' boys and sailors' boys maintain their distance at school and at play. Then there are the women. Left alone with the children, sometimes for years on end, not knowing if their men will return, not all of them believe in the sea as a way to make a living. One of them believes she can actually wreak vengeance on it, a conviction that could be fatal to the town.

Told with a transparent love of ships and voyages, often with humour, We, The Drowned is at the same time an elegy to the age of sail, the men who sailed, and the ports they visited, no matter how desperate. Maritime freight commerce may be a huge industry today, but the way of life of shipwrights and sailors, of whole communities bound together for a common purpose, is gone. We, The Drowned is their resurrection.
12 vote SassyLassy | Apr 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
When was the last time you relished sitting down with a 678-page Danish novel? "We, the Drowned" might just be too much book to tote to the beach next summer, but it's powerful reading for a long winter's night. For many nights, in fact.
"Wir Ertrunkenen" schöpft aus der langen Liste berühmter Seefahrer- und Meeresromane, wir erkennen Elemente aus Herman Melvilles "Moby Dick", aus Stevensons und Joseph Conrads Romanen, stilistisch erinnert er zuweilen an Frank Schätzings "Der Schwarm". Der Roman erfüllt jeden Jungentraum von Abenteuern aus echtem Seemannsgarn, er bietet exotische Länder, Kannibalen und Schrumpfköpfe, Schiffskatastrophen und Kriegsgräuel, prügelnde Lehrer aus Zeiten, die keiner mehr kennt, eine verwirrende erste Liebe und ein unverhofftes Wiedersehen und nicht zuletzt die Hassliebe einer verbitterten Mutter - daheim herrscht die Melodramatik, auf See die reinste Action. Da Carsten Jensen ein ungemein gewiefter Autor ist und die Kunst des dramatischen Pathos beherrscht, das dem Leser den Atem verschlägt, ist dieses Buch in all seiner Schönheit und all seinem Kitsch der Inbegriff eines Schmökers, es ist der Schmöker dieses Herbstes.
Seagoing legends of Scandinavia ...The translation is, in the main, finely wrought, preserving both the elegiac lyricism and straightforward, sometimes violent energies of the book. I do wish, however, that American translators (or their publishers) were not so anxious about idioms. To have a young Danish sailor, in 1845, refer to “freezing my butt off” bounces this reader out of a believable book....That said, Jensen’s talent as a storyteller shines through. We, the Drowned is a huge achievement. A first novel, it’s such a large book that I hope the author has more to say. Whatever may follow, I am grateful, engaged and moved by what he has said here.

We, the Drowned makes us appreciate – in vivid detail – how our present lives in commercially successful societies at peace with each other rest even now on horrific exploitation of the inarticulate, often compelled to commit acts whose savage violence we would rather forget.

In this lies the book's principal strength....Every day gives us cause for fear and sorrow but, as on the celebratory one with which the novel concludes, we can defy them by "dancing with the drowned" because "they were us".


» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carsten Jensenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barslund, CharlotteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ryder, EmmaPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Lizzie, the love of my life
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Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots.
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Follows a century in the port town of Marstal on an island off the coast of Denmark, whose citizens' lives are indelibly shaped by forces ranging from wars and shipwrecks to taboo survival practices and forbidden passions.

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