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Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

Go, Went, Gone (2015)

by Jenny Erpenbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2651861,726 (4.34)119
  1. 10
    Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (charl08)
    charl08: Similar rif on current refugee 'crisis' - but in a very different direction.
  2. 00
    Assommons les pauvres ! by Shumona Sinha (Philosofiction)

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» See also 119 mentions

English (15)  German (3)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
A man living in Berlin has just retired from academic life and has been widowed in recent years. Finding himself with a lot of time on his hands, and noticing a protest of African refugees taking place in his city's square, he finds himself curious to learn the stories of these men. One by one, he asks them to simply tell him their stories, and they do. Naturally, the more he learns, the more he becomes involved in their lives. We too become wrapped up in their stories, and ultimately his. ( )
  Tytania | Oct 13, 2018 |
What is it like, to be forced from the only home you have ever known by some force or event beyond your control: armed conflict, famine, fear of persecution? What is it like to leave your family behind with no idea of the fate that awaits them, or, indeed, to barely escape with your own life after seeing them murdered? What is it like to embark upon a journey that offers no guarantee of survival and makes no promise that once you reach your destination, you will be allowed to stay? Though we see or hear news reports about the refugee crisis almost daily, most of us in the West have no concept of the hardship, humiliation, and discrimination that displaced people must endure, and the official intransigence, obstructive bureaucracy and psychological scars that stand in the way of making a new life in a new country. In Go, Went, Gone, German author Jenny Erpenbeck addresses this gap in our knowledge, depicting what happens to a group of immigrants in Berlin who have arrived there from a variety of African states. The novel is narrated from the perspective of Richard, a widowed professor of Classics who, when we meet him, is cleaning out his office after retiring from his long-standing teaching post. Richard, self-sufficient, emotionally reticent, philosophically inclined, and finding himself with time on his hands, is pulled into a chaotic situation that local bureaucrats are making a botch of when he hears of new immigrants to the city staging a hunger strike—their demand: that they be permitted to work. Curious about their plight and embarrassed by his own ignorance, he begins his inquiry as any academic would, by reading, before approaching the men, in groups and individually, in order to speak and connect with them. Gradually, over many months, his empathy awakened, he inserts himself into their midst, learns their stories, their interests, their ambitions, and welcomes them into his home and his life, which becomes all the richer for it. Erpenbeck’s profound and unsentimental novel (ably translated by Susan Bernofsky) puts a face on a 21-Century human tragedy. For Richard, and for us, the lessons these young men can teach are indispensable to understanding the world we are living in as well as our own humanness. ( )
  icolford | Sep 10, 2018 |
This book touched my heart so deeply. I was left thinking about it all day today. Richard, a widower, retired from his position as a university professor in Berlin and had nothing planned to fill his days. He soon became immersed in the lives of a group of Africa refugees who were homeless, jobless, and far from family or friends. He listened to their incredible stories of horror and loss of family, of physical, emotional and spiritual indignity, and of their struggle for identity in a place where they were not wanted or supported.

Richard became personally involved with many of the men and became an advocate in their struggle to become productive citizens in a country with so many contradictory rules - the injustice they suffered caused many to become hopeless - yet this is not a book of hopelessness, but rather a testimony of compassion and action. The writing was gorgeous and the book, translated from the German, gives voice to those who are crossing borders seeking safety from impossible situations, yet being further abused by callous, xenophobic governments. ( )
  njinthesun | Aug 10, 2018 |
Loved this one! The writing is so beautiful. The book looks at refugees in Germany, where they are largely unwanted, and in telling this story, the author is able to explore various boundaries that we impose on ourselves and others. The fall of the Berlin Wall highlights the divisions between east and west; the refugees are black Africans living among white Germans, people have different rights based on their status of citizen, refugee, "alien".... The main protagonist is Richard, a widowed recently retired professor, who is facing his own boundary between a life of work and a life where he must find something meaningful for himself. There also is the boundary between what is visible (a drowned man no one can see) and invisible (refugees camped in a public square). In the context of today's global refugee situation, and Germany's controversial decision to accept one million migrants this books is not only profound but so relevant. ( )
  LynnB | Jul 26, 2018 |
Translated from the German, this is the story of Richard, a recently retired professor of philosophy who seeks to interview African refugees and finds himself pulled into their lives, their stories, their futures -- or lack thereof. A compelling exploration of the experience of being a refugee in an unwelcoming land, the novel is also a worthy exploration of aging and of the search for meaning and a sense of place as one faces the inevitable decline of, well, of everything. One of the things I so loved about this novel is its layers as it explores "boundaries" created by humans: the Berlin wall with its artificial east-west dichotomy, black and white with its artificial "racial" dichotomy, Europe and Africa, rich and poor, citizen and alien..... Erpenbeck weaves all these lines into and through one another without ever losing her focus on the characters and their humanity.

Highly recommended. ( )
4 vote EBT1002 | Jul 10, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jenny Erpenbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernofsky, SusanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ptok, FriedhelmNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schippers, EllyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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God made the bulk; surfaces were invented by the devil.

Even if it's driving me crazy, I have to really force myself to kill an insect. I don't know if it's out of pity. I don't think so. Maybe it's just a matter of getting used to certain states of affairs and then attempting to find one's place among these existing states, an acquiescence.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
For Wolfgang

For Franz

For my friends
First words
Perhaps many more years still lie before him, or perhaps only a few.
In truth, what the refugees want from the Senate isn't a four-person room, a shower with individual stalls, or a bus stop just a short walk from the facility where they're housed. What they want is to be allowed to look for work, to organize their lives like any other person of sound body and mind.
And an instant later, just as forcefully, Richard is seized by the hope that this young man's innocence might transport him once more to the Germany of before, to the land already lost forever by the time he was born. Deutschland is beautiful. How beautiful it would be if it were true. Beautiful is hardly the word for it.
In the pause that now ensues, Richard considers what to say as a resident of a country that has seventy thousand vacant apprentice positions with no one to fill them, a country that suffers from a shortage of trained workers but is nonetheless unwilling to accept these dark-skinned refugees; these people can't just fly over Italy, Greece, or Turkey like birds in springtime without setting foot on the wrong soil—they can't be accepted as applicants for asylum, much less taken in, educated, and given work.
None of the men here ever drinks alcohol. None of them has his own apartment or even his own bed; all their clothing comes from donations. There's no car, no stereo, no gym membership, no outings, no travel, no wife, no children, or even the prospect of having a wife or children. Indeed the only thing that each one of the refugees owns is a phone, some have a phone with a broken display, some a recent model, some with internet access, some without. Broke the memory, Tristan said, when he told Richard how soldiers rendered the captives' cell phones inoperable back in Libya.
On every visit Richard notes that the men feel more at home in these wireless networks than in any of the countries in which they await their future. This system of numbers and passwords extending clear across continents is all the compensation they have for everything they've lost forever. What belongs to them is invisible and made of air.
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The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired classics professor who lives in Berlin. His wife has died, and he lives a routine existence until one day he spies some African refugees staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz. Curiosity turns to compassion and an inner transformation, as he visits their shelter, interviews them, and becomes embroiled in their harrowing fates. Go, Went, Gone is a scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis, but also a touching portrait of a man who finds he has more in common with the Africans than he realizes.… (more)

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