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Go, Went, Gone (2015)

by Jenny Erpenbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4473239,042 (4.17)178
"Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in the world of books and ideas. But now he is retired, his library remains packed up in boxes and he steps into the streets of his city, Berlin. Here, on Alexanderplatz, he discovers a new community--a group of African asylum seekers on hunger strike. Hesitantly, getting to know the new arrivals, Richard finds his life changing, as he begins to question his own sense of belonging in a city that once divided its citizens into them and us. At once a passionate contribution to the debate on race, privilege and nationality and a beautifully written examination of an ageing man's quest to find meaning in his life, Go, Went, Gone showcases one of the great contemporary European writers at the height of her powers"--Dust jacket.… (more)
  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 178 mentions

English (22)  German (4)  Catalan (3)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
What an incredibly engaging book! First book that I read and then when finished reading, reread immediately afterwards. Anyone who has every had any bias against any group, be it ethnic, faith, gender, age or occupation needs to read this book. Anyone who thinks they are socially conscious needs to read this book. Finally, anyone who perceives they are not their brother's keeper needs to read this book. Very generally, it is about the refugee crisis and Europe's, especially Germany's failure to respond, and a sidebar about retiring, leaving a career.
Erphenbeck's prose is poignant and insightful, for example, she commented that in some countries prolonged peace has caused an emotional anemia, essentially peace for the small portion of the world that have that luxury has caused a failure to truly understand others' suffering.
Now I will comment on the actual physical book, aside from the fact that it was difficult to obtain, the book was produced as inexpensively as possible, and we know that is because the publisher perceives nominal sales which causes me dismay considering the superlative writing and important message. I definitely recommend. ( )
  EvaJanczaruk | May 31, 2020 |
This is excellent new fiction by German author Jenny Erpenbeck. The story revolves around Richard, a recently retired professor, and his involvement with some African refugees in Berlin. The refugees are staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz when he hears of them. When they are transferred to housing near his home, Richard's curiosity gets the best of him and he starts interviewing them - quickly losing the pretense of interviews and befriending several of them. As he learns their stories, his world expands - he learns about Africa and why they left and the inane laws surrounding refugee status.

Another big part of this book is life in Berlin before and after the Wall came down. There were many mentions of this woven into the book that really have me interested in reading more about the time period.

I really loved this book. It is thoughtful and works on many levels and beautifully written. Highly recommended. ( )
  japaul22 | Jul 6, 2019 |
Sobre la inmigración en Alemania ( )
  Mikelepa1605 | May 11, 2019 |
This book focuses on the refugee crisis in Germany and confronts readers with the realities behind the mass migration of asylum seekers.

The protagonist is Richard, a childless widower who has recently retired from his position as a classics professor. Until reunification, he lived in East Germany. His life is placid and routine until he takes an interest in the lives of a number of African refugees temporarily housed nearby. He hears their stories: how they left homelands racked by poverty and violence, how they make hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean, and how they are now trapped in a bureaucratic process which allows them to do nothing but wait though they want to work and begin creating new lives for themselves.

Richard is a flawed person. When he was married, he was unfaithful and did not always treat his wife with compassion. He is self-absorbed and almost totally ignorant about life outside his academic interests. At first, getting to know the refugees is just a research project for him. Over time, he gains companionship and finds a new purpose for his life. He becomes less self-centred and learns empathy; he learns “that one person’s vantage point is just as valid as another’s, and in seeing, there is no right, no wrong.”

The situation of the refugees is emphasized. The problems that forced them to leave their homelands were often the result of European colonialism: “the borders drawn by Europeans may have no relevance at all for Africans. . . . He was struck by all the perfectly straight lines, but only now does he grasp the arbitrariness made visible by such lines.” Because of European Union immigration policies, the men become the responsibility of the country where they first landed (Italy) and so are unable to work in Germany. Richard decries that the “endless streams of people, who having survived the passage across a real-life sea, are now drowning in rivers and oceans of paper” and concludes that “The more highly developed a society is, the more its written laws come to replace common sense.” The men lose hope: “A life in which an empty present is occupied by a memory that one cannot endure, in which the future refuses to show itself, must be extremely taxing, Richard thinks, since this is a life without a shoreline, as it were.” The repeated words of one of the refugees are heart wrenching: “I looked in front of me and behind me and saw nothing.”

Though Richard is a privileged white European and the refugees are powerless black Africans, Richard comes to recognize the common humanity of all: “the difference between one person and another is in fact ridiculously small” though we seem to separate ourselves because of “a few pigments in the material that’s known as skin in all the languages of the world.” What is important is that underneath our clothing, “every one of us is naked and must surely, let’s hope, have taken pleasure in sunshine and wind, in water and snow, have eaten or drunk this and that tasty thing, perhaps even have loved someone and been loved in return before dying one day.”

Because of his displacement as a child during World War II and his initial disorientation when Germany was reunified, Richard understands the “everlasting flux and the ephemeral nature of all human constructs, the sense that all existing order is vulnerable to reversal.” The mass migration Europe is witnessing is not new: “This movement of people across the continents has already been going on for thousands of year, and never once has this movement halted.” Yet people apparently believe that “we’ve now arrived at the end of history, making it possible to use violence to suppress all further movement and change? Or have the people living here under untroubled circumstances and at so great a distance from the wars of others been afflicted with a poverty of experience, a sort of emotional anemia? Must living in peace – so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world – inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?”

The author reminds Europeans that they should not think they deserve their economic prosperity and privileged lives: progress “is often based on quite different principles than punishment and reward. . . . Neither the material prosperity [in West Germany] nor the planned economy [in East Germany] could be explained by any particular trait of the German citizens in question – they were just the raw material for those political experiments. . . . But if this prosperity couldn’t be attributed to their own personal merit, then by the same token the refugees weren’t to blame for their reduced circumstances.” And it’s senseless to deny refugees “permission to work while at the same time reproaching them for idleness.” And isn’t it ironic that though the refugees cannot work, their arrival creates employment for Germans; in fact, one of their protests creates “half-time jobs for at least twelve Germans.”

This book should prick the conscience of its readers. How much do we know about what is happening in Africa? How many of us even know that Africa has 54 countries? (No, Nambia is not one!) Do we regard asylum-seekers as threatening our way of life? The novel is also a call to action because “There but for the grace of God, go I.” For me, one of the most powerful statements in the novel is “only if [the refugees] survived Germany now would Hitler truly have lost the war.” But even for those of us not living in Europe, the subject matter has relevance.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Apr 29, 2019 |
„An einem Donnerstag Ende August versammeln sich zehn Männer vor dem Roten Rathaus in Berlin. Sie haben beschlossen, heißt es, nichts mehr zu essen.“: Wir begegnen Afrikanische Asylsucher, die es nach Berlin verschlagen hat. Was bringt sie her? Was begegnet sie in die Fremde? Wie begegnet die Fremde sie? Im Präsenz, in Erpenbecks einzigartiger Sprache, begegnen wir, was es heißt, human zu handeln, im besten Sinn des Wortes, aber auch in dem Sinn, der im Sprachgebrauch ausgeklammert und den Wölfen unterschoben wird (lupus est homo homini), eine Beleidigung der Wölfe! - kein Wolf würde jäh einem anderen Wolf antun, was Menschen fähig sind, anderen anzutun. Auch hier, wie schon in ihren früheren Büchern, stößt man auf die ‘Zeit’; hier kann sie sich endlos dehnen in der Ungewissheit und oft nur mit Schlaf auszufüllen, hin und wieder, selten, unterbrochen von Sprüngen.
Dem Buch liegt der Flüchtlingsprotest auf dem Oranienplatz 2014 zu Grunde. Es wurde ein Bestseller. Gut! (III-19) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Apr 2, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (14 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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Epigraph
God made the bulk; surfaces were invented by the devil.

—WOLFGANG PAULI
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.

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

For Franz

For my friends
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Perhaps many more years still lie before him, or perhaps only a few.
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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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