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We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

We, the Drowned (2006)

by Carsten Jensen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0243612,453 (4.12)78
  1. 10
    The Shipping News: A Novel 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. 10
    Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (spiphany)
  3. 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 78 mentions

English (27)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Loses a LOT of steam toward the end. But, the first two thirds are unique and surprising. I'm always curious about praising the language in a novel when reading in translation. Should that praise be heaped solely on the translator? Should it be shared with the author who inspired it? I have no idea. It doesn't change the fact that the language in this book dances in rhythms tailor-made for the topic. When characters are on-land, the language is sparse and direct. At sea, the language rolls and tumbles like the sailors on their ships. That some of this is inspired by the real history of the author's hometown adds to the flavor. The shifting perspectives employed in the book serve the story well despite the potential for confusion if delivered by a lesser author. ( )
  alexezell | Nov 14, 2018 |
This book spans a century in the lives of the men and women of Marstal, Denmark, a town shaped by the sea. The men go off to sea, to return intermittently or never, while the women continue with their lives at home. We hear of adventures in the South Pacific, squabbles between little boys' gangs, heroism in the World Wars, the perils of life on the North Atlantic, and much more. It's a book I wanted to race through, but I kept putting it down so that it wouldn't have to end. The translation is smooth and the book is structured to make it very easy to read in snippets if you so desire. It was by turns amusing, heartbreaking and shocking, and the narrative device of first person plural was used just often enough to be effective without overstaying its welcome.

Recommended for those who like fictional twists on the historical record or possibly the novels of Alistair MacLean (for the WW2 stories especially), and for those who love stories of the sea. This is one I hope to return to someday. ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | May 31, 2017 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (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 (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carsten Jensenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andersson, LeoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barslund, CharlotteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gnaedig, AlainTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hervieu, HélèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ryder, EmmaTranslatorsecondary 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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