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We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
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We, the Drowned (original 2006; edition 2011)

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

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897349,836 (4.16)68
Member:twopairsofglasses
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 68 mentions

English (25)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All (34)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
I went into my reading of We, the Drowned with certain expectations. Not only was I anticipating an epic, gorgeously written story, but I was expecting a journey on the seas with one character to all ends of the earth. I don't know where I picked up this impression that We, the Drowned was largely about Albert, who searches the world for his lost father—even the novel's blurb alludes to a story much larger than Laurids and Albert—but that was what I expected nonetheless.

Because it wasn't what I wanted, I was disappointed in We, the Drowned. Now how petty is that? At least I'm honest. The story I wanted was nearly seven-hundred pages of a son searching for his father. There would be wonderful character building and a quest that would captivate me until its resolution. Also, there would be monsters and flying ships and unexplained occurrences because not only was I confused about the plot, but somehow I had it in mind that this was heavy in magical realism. Hmmmm. Expectations be damned. Let's just throw my expectations out and start over.

We, the Drowned is structured more like a novel in stories than a traditional novel. There's the episode of Laurids who nearly dies in battle, but miraculously survives unscathed. There is the story of his son, Albert, and his upbringing without a father who mysteriously disappeared. Then there is Albert's adventurous journey on the sea in search for his father. And then there are five hundred more pages. What I thought was the entire subject of the book is resolved in under two hundred pages. There's much more to this book than Laurids and even Albert. Each subsequent story is loosely tied into the stories that preceded it, but they span time and the globe. The thread that unites these stories have more to do with the town of Marstal and the oceans than they do with a singular event or character.

With its fragmented nature, We, the Drowned fails to be the huge epic I imagined, but that does not mean it doesn't succeed in other ways. Jensen's novel utilizes place and object how I expected it to use character and story. Not only are all these tales connected to Marstal, a town which inhabits the story as much as its characters inhabit it, but they're connected to the sea and the professional of seafaring. These are more vital to the story than any character. Once one has forgotten the names of Laurids and Albert, Klara, Knud Erik, Sophie, Herman, one still will recall the name of Marstal. They'll remember the journeys even if they've forgotten which crew sailed on them. And they'll recall the objects—the shrunken head, the boots, the vision of a bird—that outlast all but terrain itself.

It is the vivid settings and strange objects that truly occupy We, the Drowned and take the reader on an adventure. This isn't the timeless quest of a man looking for a father, it is the story of a town that strives to survive and a professional that is as old as time itself. ( )
  chrisblocker | Feb 17, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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