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Go, Went, Gone (2015)

by Jenny Erpenbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7264931,431 (4.12)205
Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation. 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. Exquisitely translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses one of the most pivotal issues of our time, facing it head-on in a voice that is both nostalgic and frightening.… (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 205 mentions

English (36)  Catalan (4)  German (4)  Dutch (3)  Finnish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This is my third Erpenbeck novel, and I continue to enjoy her writing style, quirks and all - so far all the books feature a lake as brooding presence, sometimes beautiful and scenic, but also usually with a dark and threatening aspect. She is also the master of the non sequitur that actually conveys mood and meaning.
This book is about African asylum seekers in Germany. We learn about what drove them from Africa, how they survived the deadly sea crossing, and how they end up mired in EU, and German, bureaucracy by being in Germany after first landing in Italy.
The story is told with passion and compassion, but it is tough to make a novel out of such polarized political stances. ( )
  mbmackay | Apr 19, 2024 |
Richard is a widower, a retired professor of Classics in Berlin and the former East Germany. His life seems - to him as well - somewhat purposeless. One day he happens upon a demonstration in town by a group of refugees from various African nations who have camped out there. This is a world of which Ricard knows nothing, but his interest is piqued, and gradually, reluctantly at first, but then with increasing passion, he comes to know them and something of their stories. Of their families, lost to them, or killed in frightening circumstances. His life acquires a purpose: helping the men fight their corners, seeking funding. He discovers his own country's dark past, the prejudices still alive and powerful among politicians, many of the general population and his own friends. He finds a legal situation where each country with whom the asylum seekers have contact have a get-out clause enabling them to move these men on to somewhere else. This quietly, lyrically told told but urgent story is an indictment of that system. Absolutely nothing has got better since 2017, when this novel was published. Required reading for Suella Braverman. ( )
  Margaret09 | Apr 15, 2024 |
In this novel, the author takes a unique approach in highlighting the plight of African refugees fleeing to Europe. Set in Berlin, our protagonist, Richard, a widowed and recently-retired classics professor, attempts to create a new routine. He is not particularly observant but likes order and “doing things the right way.” He is intellectually curious. Twenty-five years later, he is still adjusting to capitalist Germany after having lived in East Germany for many years. After seeing the African refugees on television, he decides to visit them, bringing with him a list of questions. Initially it is an academic exercise, but as he gradually gets to know them, he ends up forming bonds and learning about their lives and aspirations. He relates to the loss of a former life and the need to transition to a new one. Richard experiences a personal awakening to what is important in life, and he is spurred to act.

This book is not for someone looking for a clearly defined and quickly developing plot, nor is it a deep character study. It appears to meander around in the beginning, as we follow Richard on his walks in the city and listen to his inner musings. It took me some time to get into the swing of the narrative, but once I got accustomed to it, I began to appreciate what the author is trying to do. She is taking a current, important issue, examining it in a thought-provoking way, and bringing it down to a personal level. She calls attention to bureaucratic red tape and rigid irrational laws, explodes certain myths, and shows poignantly the human desire to survive. She evokes empathy in the process, and even offers a small glimmer of hope.

I had not previously read anything by Erpenbeck, but plan to check out her other works based on my response to this one. Recommended to those interested in social commentary on emigration, immigration, the refugee crisis, or similar current issues. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Thought-provoking, sensitive look at the plight of refugees in Berlin, with the perspective of former East Germany residents. Characters are multi-dimensional and nuanced. Narrator Lisa Flanagan does a good job. ( )
  elifra | May 17, 2022 |
This is a thoughtful novel about refugees from Africa living in Germany. It is based around the men who took part in the Oranienplatz protest in Berlin. Richard, a newly retired university professor, meets these men and becomes involved in their lives. He is lonely and unsure what to do with himself and at first, this fills his days but the more stories he hears the more he becomes involved. The novel is unsettling, challenging so many stereotypes and assumptions we make but mostly it is both life affirming and desperately sad and distressing. There is so much cruelty and ignorance and not enough love. Get hold of this book and read it. ( )
  CarolKub | Jan 13, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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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.
Gott schuf das Volumen, der Teufel die Oberfläche.
(Wolfgang Pauli)
Auch wenn es mich sehr stört, muss ich eine große Hemmung überwinden, um ein Insekt zu töten.
Ich weiß nicht, ob es Mitleid ist. Ich glaube nicht, nein.
Vielleicht einfach ein Sichgewöhnen an Zusammenhänge. Und ein Versuch, sich einzufügen in Zusammenhänge, die existieren, Einverständnis.
(Heiner Müller)
Dedication
For Wolfgang

For Franz

For my friends
Für Wolfgang
Für Franz
Für meine Freunde
First words
Perhaps many more years still lie before him, or perhaps only a few.
Vielleicht liegen noch viele Jahre vor ihm, vielleicht nur noch ein paar.
Quotations
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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Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation. 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. Exquisitely translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses one of the most pivotal issues of our time, facing it head-on in a voice that is both nostalgic and frightening.

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