Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

"The end of days" by Jenny Erpenbeck (Portobello books, 2014)

It's organised into 5 "books" with intermezzos. Each intermezzo suggests how easily things could have turned out differently in the previous book, and the next book follows a new timeline. The baby who dies in the first book lasts much longer in the second, set in Vienna. Her mother's a Jew married to a "goy", which helps them avoid persecution. In the third book the daughter joins a communist cell of revolutionary writers during the rise of Hitler. In book 4 she's just died in East Berlin, leaving a 17 y.o. son. She's a famous writer. In book 5 she's 90, deranged, a grandmother about to die. The wall is down.

The book ends by backtracking to 1941, tracing the journey of a clock and a series of books - heirlooms. The dying woman's son nearly bought them without knowing what they were.

Snow is a theme - a life-saver and a killer. And there's much more to the language than being a conveyor of plot, e.g.

  • the secession of Hungary, say, might result in a pair of lips bitten raw in the case of one particular woman, perhaps even his own wife. In other words, there is a constant translation between far outside and deep within, it's just that a different vocabulary exists for each of us, which no doubt explains why it's never been noticed that this is a language in the first place - and in fact, the only language valid across the world and for all time. If a person were to study a sufficient number of faces, he would surely be able to observe wrinkles, twitching eyelids, lusterless teeth, and draw conclusions about the death of a Kaiser. (p.73)
  • Her body is a city. Her heart is a large shady square, her fingers pedestrians, her hair the light of streetlamps, her knees two rows of buildings (p.213)
  • there he will weep bitterly as he has never wept before, and still, as his nose runs and he swallows his own tears, he will ask himself whether these strange sounds and spasms are really all that humankind has been given to mourn with (p.238)

I wasn't sure about the book at first. It grew on me as details accumulated.

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1 comment:

  1. Dear Tim

    Two of America's greatest writers, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, are Jewish and their overall contribution to world literature is immense. If you'll permit me a small plug, my 'Australian Anagrams' are now available from and Amazon Kindle.

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish