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The Book of Words

by Jenny Erpenbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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10111265,053 (3.38)6
Written in sharp and sinister prose, this is a novel in which beauty and cruelty are never far apart. 'The Book of Words' is the follow-up to 'The Old Child'.

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» See also 6 mentions

English (10)  Spanish (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This translation suffered from a division of intent. As she said in the translator’s afterword, Bernofsky saw in this piece a combination of wars: Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the conflict of Germany from National Socialist rule onwards. But this leaves untranslatable scraps, such as German nursery rhymes and songs, which Bernofsky tackles by replacing with their English equivalents. In other places, Bernofsky leans decidedly more towards the South American tones, leaving in details that are a mash of details too concrete for the “parable of life” that Bernofsky describes the original work to be.
As this translation seemed jumbled, I feel ill-equipped to comment on the content of the novel. I was in favor of the abrasively serialized imagery, however, and found the narrator quite believably young. The Book of Words was a compelling story, but could perhaps benefit from another translation.
( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
I loved this book, it is best read in one sitting. My mind loves to wander the way Erpenbeck writes though I fear even attempting to pin down my thoughts in this manner. This book is dark and vague at times, not for the reader who demands that everything "make sense" at all times and likes things spelt out for them. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Feb 11, 2020 |
Words cascade through the young girl at heart of this brief but dense novella. They shimmer. They sparkle. They circle round and round a truth that she can’t quite reach. She has a taciturn father, a well-manicured mother, a wet-nurse, all in a very large but mostly empty house in a land where the sun shines hot every day and there is no snow. She is endlessly fascinated by the world around her, but forever unable to piece together the picture that has so many pieces missing. People literally go missing. Some are pulled off buses by their hair. Others just “go on vacation” but never return. That is, until they do start returning to visit her in the form of insubstantial spirits. Somehow, the girl knows, her father is in some way responsible for these disappearances. But it all seems a blur.

This is a fascinating, macabre, approach to the limitless destructive power of a state and the men who wield that power. At times you just have to let Erpenbeck’s words wash over you like waves on a shore, as she visits and revisits particular phrases and telling images. The effect is haunting. As much tone poem as narrative.

Recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Aug 15, 2018 |
Words are powerful, though you’d not know it from the bulk of novels written. As the title of this short novel, perhaps even a novella, shows, its story is about words and their uses and the way in which they can create a world for a protagonist and hint to the reader at the context for that world. The narrator discusses words as she describes her childhood in an unnamed country suffering under an oppressive regime, and in which her father works. It’s a completely self-centre narrative, as every word in the book is about the narrator or her world. But what she writes does provide clues to the reality underlying the narrative. The mother is German, and had fled her country for political reasons – mostl likely because she was a Nazi. Though the Germans have contributed to the father’s country, they are not liked. The regime is brutal – the father talks openly about torture, and even describes atrocities committed by some unnamed Germans (one of which is clearly Mengele). The Book of the Words is closer to The Old Child than it is Visitation or The End of Days. It’s not an easy read – and in parts, it is quite gruesome – but it is very clever in the way it doles out information to the reader, aithout breaking the narrator’s character. Erpenbeck has to date published six books, although, I think, only four have been translated into English. My German is probably too rusty to fully appreciate her prose in that language. So can someone publish those other two books in English, please? ( )
  iansales | Jan 22, 2017 |
The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck - Good

I read this too soon after Visitation, but it was there in the library when I returned the first one and I thought 'why not?' Well, the reason is that whilst I find her style interesting, reading two so close together was too much. (The book that sent me on the search for her work in the first place was actually in when I returned this one, but I decided to give myself a break first).

This is an interesting and slightly disturbing book. Very short and quick to read, it is written from a child's memory/point of view. The child starts out very young, so the words she repeats are Mother, Father, Ball, Car. Over and over again these words reappear. We begin to realise the child is a girl, she is being raised by a wet nurse, a distant mother and a father that is both loving and authoritative. She plays with the wet nurse's daughter. She plays the piano. She grows. As the story develops we get more and more uneasy. People, children disappear. Shops, houses, buildings are abandoned and grow derelict. We discover the family have emigrated to the land they now live in. As the girl gets older, more of these mysteries become clearer. What was once seen through the eyes of a young child become clearer as she grows older and understands more.

I won't say much else, except that all the things I began to suspect as I read, turned out to be more or less where the author was taking me.

I'm glad I read it, just wish I'd left it a longer after the last one. ( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Reflecting back on her girlhood in an unnamed and repressive society, the narrator examines how periods of censure facilitate the unreliability of language. As the title suggests, the materiality of words is of interest to both the narrator, trying to make sense of the obfuscations that enfolded her youth, and to the author, a German whose style further ratifies the evergreen resources of modernism.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jenny Erpenbeckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernofsky, SusanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Usually all that's left is a few bones.' 
'An entire generation vanished here.'
'...bên zi bêna, bluot zi bluoda
 lid zi geliden, sôse gelîmida sîn!

...bone to bone, blood to blood
limb to limb, as if bonded together.'
2nd Merseburg Incantation
For my father, with all my heart
First words
What are my eyes for if they can see but see nothing?
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Written in sharp and sinister prose, this is a novel in which beauty and cruelty are never far apart. 'The Book of Words' is the follow-up to 'The Old Child'.

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