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We, the Drowned (2006)

by Carsten Jensen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1294012,192 (4.15)81
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.
  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. 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 81 mentions

English (30)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (2)  German (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
We'll never be a family, Albert thought. We're just the wreckage of other families.

What a stunning, heartbreaking, life-affirming, devastating work. We, The Drowned covers 100 years in the life of a Danish town, Marstal, through the sailors and soldiers and their families. Jensen's prose is vivid and poetic, rarely as "simple" as the misguided reviews on the back of the cover say (even if they mean well by it), and always insightful. His characters walk the tightrope of magic realism without ever crossing over into that genre. He renders the complex relationship all lifelong coast-dwellers have with the ocean, immaculately clear.

This book is a very dense tome. At 700 pages, it uses every one of those pages to tease out heavy strands of story and character, so it's definitely not a light read. But We, the Drowned is an immensely rewarding one. There are grand set-pieces - the dehydrated butterflies spring to mind, or the early, strangely optimistic tales of a POW camp - but these are contrasted with simple character tales that elevate the mundane drama above the global events occurring around the characters.

For me, a few of the character revelations toward the end felt a tad obvious - the lead female character develops a highly unpleasant but completely understandable goal, and her late realisation of what she's been doing with her life feels a little forced - but the sheer force of Jensen's skill overwhelms any qualms. A beauty of a book, and a beast of a book, too. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
Though I usually avoid tomes such as this (because of how many other books I could finish in the same amount of time), the first line of this one nailed me - and the rest of the 677 pages held me fast.

There's humor and tragedy and pathos and a whole lot of sailing, but what I loved best was how many great stories were in the one grand story of the book. The whole thing is just full of little beginnings and little endings that roll into the larger narrative like ongoing rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." It was a rich reminder that in real life (as in this tale of the real town of Marstal, Denmark), our stories don't have starting and finish lines so much as a constant tidal ebb and flow.

If you like a big, fat book from time to time, make this your next one. ( )
  rhowens | Nov 26, 2019 |
It's well written, but I never really got into it. I think maybe I'm not in the right place to appreciate it right now, or maybe I just don't like multi-generation novels. ( )
  haloedrain | Aug 3, 2019 |
A remarkable story about the town of Marstal, in Denmark. Situated on a Danish island, this novel covers about 100 years in the life of this town, which has a fascinating history of seafaring adventure. Seen through the eyes of several of the town's most popular residents as they live their watery lives, for me it was a surprisingly fascinating book. I am so glad I took a chance and bought this novel. It is not my usual historical genre and is definitely a great recommendation for reading outside of one's box.
This ebook version from time to time did have a few typos, but nothing that got in the way of my reading. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (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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