Visitation (New Directions Paperbook)

by Jenny Erpenbeck

Other authorsSusan Bernofsky (Translator)
Paperback, 2010

Call number

FIC ERP

Collection

Publication

New Directions (2010), Edition: 57146th, 192 pages

Description

A forested property on a Brandenburg lake outside Berlin lies at the heart of this darkly sensual, elegiac novel. Encompassing over one hundred years of German history, from the nineteenth century to the Weimar Republic, from World War II to the Socialist German Democratic Republic, and finally reunification and its aftermath, Visitation offers the life stories of twelve individuals who seek to make their home in this one magical little house. The novel breaks into the everyday life of the house and shimmers through it, while relating the passions and fates of its inhabitants. Elegant and poetic, Visitation forms a literary mosaic of the last century, tearing open wounds and offering moments of reconciliation, with its drama and its exquisite evocation of a landscape no political upheaval can truly change.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
This is not the kind of book that you can just read, put aside and move on to something else. Well, I guess you could do that if you were totally unfeeling and insensitive and able to deflect all attempts to break through your hard outer crust. This book stabbed me through the heart and while the
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dagger was in there, it was twisted…hard. Deceptively brief (a mere150 pages) the book seemed a lot longer to me because I found myself dwelling on many of the carefully crafted sentences and the overall subject matter forced me to linger over certain passages, trying to get my brain to determine where we were in the 20th century and what exactly the author was trying to say. Because above all it is a book of multiple layers, and it is the exploration and dissection of these layers that takes time and patience. So not an easy read, but well worth the effort.

The main protagonist of the story is a piece of land in the Brandenburg section of Germany, just outside of Berlin, and the house that sits on it. The Prologue explains how the land came to be going back 24,000 years when ”a glacier advanced until it reached a large outcropping of rock that now is nothing more than a gentle hill above where the house stands.” The story is told by the twelve individuals who make their home in the house from the early years of the 20th century until just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1980’s. The one constant is the gardener who takes loving care of the property throughout.

The fate of the house and its land closely mimics the lot of Germany in the last century through two world wars and the establishment and then dismantling of East Germany. The property is divided and subdivided many times over the years and, in the end, the house is dismantled, returning the land to what it was in the early 20th century.

The author brilliantly established the tone of the brutality of this time with her use of stark language while still maintaining a feeling of reconciliation and healing. Her spare, poignant prose took my breath away:

”The 6th Army capitulated outside Stalingrad, and already the morning of that day she was overcome by hot flashes, the sweat covering the space between her lips and nose like a mustache of tiny droplets, this sweat was embarrassing, but it would have embarrassed her even more to wipe it away, the Russians were marching toward Poland, and she felt dizzy, often several times a day, so that she had to steady herself by grasping table edges and door handles so as not to fall down, and finally, just as the Allies were landing in Normandy, even weeping returned to her body, taking hold of it and refusing to leave again, like a long forgotten creditor come to collect on a debt she no lo0nger recalled.” (Page 53)

Weaving the story back and forth in time, this is a very difficult read that will not be for everyone but if you are up to the challenge, you will certainly be rewarded.
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LibraryThing member JanetinLondon
Definitely a 5-star read. This book is about time, durability, existence, perception, memory. A piece of land has existed seemingly forever – a lovely opening chapter describes its emergence during the ages, how it came to be a meadow and a lake up against the edge of a mountain, 24000 years ago.
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It is part of the local landscape, subject to the clear rules of nature, year in, year out. A mysterious “gardener” helps the local community maintain it, with unvarying protocols (and occasional improvements), just like the unvarying local protocols on marriage, on death, on religion, on life generally. These are described carefully, beautifully, repeatedly. “Nothing” happens – although clearly things must have done, as there are hints of suicides, trysts, childbirths, escapes of one kind or another. Then, the latest owner, having no son to leave it to (but 4 daughters – what’s that about?), sells it off in three pieces, and a lot more happens.

The rest of the book tells, not always linearly or chronologically, but clearly enough if you read a bit more slowly than usual, the stories of the people who acquire the pieces of land. At first, these are all hopeful stories of life enhancement and expansion, but this is Germany in the 1930’s, so soon enough come hyperinflation, the rise of the Nazis, expropriation of Jewish property, the need to hide, to escape or fail to escape, the War, the Holocaust, the Russian occupation, the oppressions of the East German regime, and eventually the fall of the Berlin Wall and the quest for repatriation of ownership. Some people are “winners”, some of the time, most are “losers” most of the time. Some lose their homes, their fortunes, their possessions, others lose their families, their lives. The houses and the land live in their memories, events recalled and stories re-told, when they are exiled or dying, or even when they are there. Eventually, all this will end, a short season of madness in a long history of a place. Existence will carry on, bigger than the individuals, although for them, it has been all their time.

This is where I wish I was a much better reader and analyst, so I could really tell you what makes this such a special book. It is short, and beautiful, and worth reading more than once.
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
An instant favorite. What I’m most impressed with is her ability to be so distant and cold in her poetic approach, yet somehow the overall effect is relatable, and very human. Often when I read books that are poetic in nature (see: Maud Martha, Deep North, even Silk) I feel disconnected from the
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characters by a veil of constructed beauty. But even though this book has all that beauty and construction and a huge bag of tricks to boot, I always felt emotionally involved. And even though she uses her bag of tricks (calling it that is a disservice to what’s going on here), it never feels heavy handed or show-offy. All of it is pulled off with subtlety, delicacy, careful pacing and craft, yet it never comes off as sterile.

The book starts off with these illuminating epigraphs:

"As the day is long and the world is old, many people can stand in the same place, one after the other." -- Marie in Woyzeck by Georg Buchner

"If I came to you, / O woods of my youth, could you / Promise me peace once again?" -- Holderlin

"When the house is finished, Death enters." -- Arabic proverb

These quotes set the tone for what is about to be revealed, which is similar to seeing several photos of the same place superimposed onto one another, the people in it appearing like ghosts crossing over for a quick visit. Time is compressed in these narratives; the concern here is not only with objective linear time, but with time seen through the blurred lens of memory. And also with the disconnect between objective time (its brutal passing, irregardless of us) and subjective time (our distortions, regardless of fact). The confusion that results is somewhat eerie. I’m having trouble coming up with examples, as she creates these effects over many pages. The chapter entitled “The Cloth Manufacturer” illustrates this very well, and can actually be read as an excellent standalone short story. Here is a sentence from that chapter:

"I know, he, Ludwig, says, his father’s only son."

The chapters differ slightly in style depending on what each is saying, yet come together as a whole perfectly... and this chapter had one of the most distinctive styles. The sentences were short, declarative, often containing repetitive information cordoned off into dependent clauses that were then displaced at the end of the sentence. This displacement is intentionally jarring and sometimes awkward, but also the repetition of information had the tone of an ominous fairy tale, like the voice of someone trying to convey a horrible event to a child in the simplest way possible.

Instead of progressing any kind of plot, each chapter is more concerned with filling in every crack in the context surrounding a single place. Context over content, or context being the content. Also: extensive passages are dedicated to pure information (marriage rituals, property rights, land formations, etc.). Since I’ve been reading Walter Benjamin also, I couldn’t help but connect the two. Benjamin talks about how information has increasingly taken over traditional forms of personal and collective history:

The replacement of the older narration by information, of information by sensation, reflects the increasing atrophy of experience. In turn, there is a contrast between all these forms and the story, which is one of the oldest forms of communication.

This information moves along like time itself, relentless and unceasing like the endless seasons’ demands and the gardener’s constant work. Meanwhile, it is only the reader, with the advantage of having the entire book within reach, who is able to piece together the different narratives into a story. For each generation seems isolated from the ones before it and the ones to come, leaving only traces here and there, the scent of camphor and mint, but separated off like a dependent clause at the end of a sentence.

We come to know time intimately as a character; and place as well, for the two are intimately bound:

Home! he’d cried out like a child that would give anything not to be seeing what it was seeing, but precisely in this one brief moment in which he hid his face in his hands, as it were, even this dutiful German official had known that home would never again be called Bavaria, the Baltic coast or Berlin, home had been transformed into a time that now lay behind him, Germany had been irrevocably transformed into something disembodied, a lost spirit that neither knew nor was forced to imagine all these horrific things.

In the middle of this book, the larger context of world history envelopes the smaller context of our story; we watch helplessly as our characters’ fates are dominated by the Holocaust and the war. We see time and place transformed by horrible events, distorted so that nothing is familiar. Nothing will be the same again. The consequence of linear time is its one-way-ness, we can never go back. And it is as if the novel pivots around this one point. We can never see these same places the same way, never associate them with the same uncontaminated memories.

This is what makes the book so tragic: it keeps going. We see the generations roll on, they deal with what they must, and soon even the horrors are forgotten and we, the readers, are the only ones left with the memories of what happened here, in these familiar places.

Two other notes. 1) The translation is excellent! Attention and detail and subtlety on the minutest level. 2) the Goodreads description says this was a bestseller in Germany. That blows my mind, that a book of this caliber and complexity can be so popular. Sadly, I cannot imagine it happening here in the US.
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LibraryThing member zenomax
"Heredity, will, destiny, all mingle noisily in our soul; but notwithstanding everything, far above everything, it is the silent star that reigns".

So wrote Maurice Maeterlinck in his neo Platonist tract, The Treasure of the Humble.

Erpenbeck's book (it does not feel right to call it a novel - it is
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more like a revelatory tract itself) seems to follow a similar philosophical trajectory.

Heredity, will and destiny. Each in its ways guiding us, but each somewhat beyond our control. And still further from us, but not beyond the reach of our imagination, the thought of some praeternatural guiding light.

The story, such as it is, is about a piece of land, near a lake. This piece of land is sculpted and moulded on the surface by a number of human dwellers. They themselves are in turn moulded by fates.

The times are changing. The life of the village mayor and his four daughters, recorded early in the book, are probably the last to be lived to the timeless traditions and rhythms of the countryside. The coming generations are to be affected by wars and by different ways of running things, by different revelations about the future.They are fated to live in interesting times. People come and go, change the landscape a little, add or subtract from the buildings, and time slowly flows on.The only constant now is the changing of the seasons- as personified in the form of the gardener - although even this becomes subsumed underneath the veneer of the modern times in which people now dwell.

What sets this book apart is the way it occupies different spheres to most fictional works. It circles above the world we normally see in fiction - the world of interpersonal relations as seen from the human viewpoint - instead taking the view almost of an alien visitor, or of nature itself observing the bipedal inhabitants and recording their pastimes and fetishes (although from a distance, once removed from normal emotional connection).

Yet this is not a cold book, it is a true book, a book of facts recorded. Whether facts about trees planted in a certain year, trees trimmed at certain times, the small architectural details a husband adds to a house to please his wife,or about the way a young woman suddenly crosses the threshold from sanity to a state of no longer being fully sane, it is a record of which Berliner - and at what address - purchases each item previously confisticated from a family of Jews, and it records how the last survivor of that family survives and survives through removal to Poland, the subsequent round up of all in the ghetto, the train journey by overcrowded cattle truck, only to finally not survive - to not survive by being taken aside and shot with the old people who equally are of no use as labourers.

While it is more distant than most books it is also far more near. From time to time we come right into the thinking, dreaming mind of one of the humans. The 12 year old girl - the last survivor of her family - about to be shot, somewhere in Poland, with the smell of pine trees (which she cannot see because of the height of the wall) reminding her of the house by the lake, is taken back to the times she swam in the lake, diving down under its waters to tickle her parents legs. She recalls how they pretended to scream because they knew that would please her.

When the girl is shot, along with the old people, and with those who had lost their minds on the journey, it is recorded that a vacuum came into this world - a vacuum small and maybe imperceptible to most, but a fact recorded and verified nevertheless:

"For three years the girl took piano lessons, but now, while her dead body slides down into the pit, the word piano is taken back from human beings, now the backflip on the high bar that the girl could perform better than her school mates is taken back, along with all the motions a swimmer makes, the gesture of seizing hold of a crab is taken back, as well as all the basic knots to be learned for sailing, all these things are taken back into uninventedness, and finally, last of all, the name of the girl herself is taken back, the name no one will ever call her again by: Doris."

It strikes me that what gives this book such impact is its ability to create a bridge between its distant, distancing view of the human world (suggesting a world where destiny & heredity hold sway, where we have no ability to change things) and its recording of human consciousness. Here, the big picture, the huge forces of time and destiny, merge with the little unimportant detail, the fleeting daydream or half forgotten memory in one girl's mind.

Perhaps the distant shining star is not a tangible thing, but an answer within us, and perhaps this book points us in a direction, no more than that.

(In memory of LT member JanetinLondon).
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LibraryThing member mks27
Reading Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck is a wholly unique reading experience. The story centers on a place, a patch of hilly forest bordering a lake close to Berlin, and follows the people who occupy this patch of earth. The plot travels in and out of time and characters, spanning from the 19th
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century until just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in an angular and unpredictable path. The individual stories include a young girl from the nearby village, a Jewish family who sell their parcel in hopes of escape, an architect and his wife in favor under Hitler, a communist writer and her family, a granddaughter who mourns the loss of her childhood, a woman who lost her family farm, a Jewish girl in hiding, a woman who learns the truth about herself, and a Soviet officer far from home. In the end, all spending time on this small piece of Germany are merely visitors, powerless in the face of Germany’s changing political powers.

Erpenbeck’s writing style is both poetic and beautiful, with a habit of frequently repeating phrases to mimic the repetition of the routines of everyday life. This repetition signifies who each character is or what makes a moment profound or memorable. Her descriptive writing offers readers a lush experience of both the natural world and the interior world of each character. The character of the Gardener, close to ever present, performs the role of steward to the land. Themes touch on the unpredictable nature of life, the passing of time, the concept of home, and the unrelenting character of nature. The author, who is German, does not skirt the issues of the Holocaust, Hitler, World War II, the Russian occupation of East Germany, and the end of communism, depicting the winners and losers on both sides. Nevertheless, in the end, there are no winners.

I found it difficult to follow my usual routine of reading through the chaos of an active household or in a public place. Visitation led me to seek solitude while reading, focusing on each word and sentence like a work of art. This novel is unique and possesses a poetic character. Those readers who enjoy books packed full of both meaning and beauty in every word, will find reading Visitation a rewarding experience. Visitation was translated from German by Susan Bernofsky and has been named to the 2011 Best Translated Books Awards Longlist. My rating is ****1/2.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Don't be fooled by the (small) size of this novel, because it certainly packs a punch. A piece of land by a lake in Germany is purchased by an architect who builds a beautiful home complete with quirky little touches to suit his wife's whimsy. The grounds are planned out by a landscaper (the
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architect's cousin) and tended daily by the gardener. Through the years, the house is occupied by different tenants. People come and go through the two world wars, through the occupation by the Russians and a stampede of horses, through the communist regime and the reunification. In alternating chapters, we are introduced to the successive residents of the house, the house which we soon discover is the main character in this story. The house and well-tended grounds that is, because the gardener is always there, tending the trees and rose bushes, going about his business and doing his best to care for a parcel of land that has a long history since times before the humans came and will probably go on being there long after we're all gone. Not a joyful read, as you can imagine, but one which enriches and opens doors we may not have suspected existed before.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Both haunting and sad, the visitation that these all too brief lives make upon a plot of land by a lake near Berlin is a mere blip in the geological scale but rife with meaning all the same. The writing is at once distancing and enveloping. We know so little about many of those who pass some or all
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of their days on this property. The gardener, for example, whose faithful tending of the trees and shrubs, grass and flowers, repeats and repeats over many year, goes unnamed. But perhaps the various landowners could be equally unnamed since their individual existences are so tangential to the land itself. Certainly people come and go. They sometimes grow. Significant events occur for some. But all eventually fade or are subject to disease or violence or flight. And even residual claims to “rightful” ownership are merely bureaucratic noise. Those too, you suspect, will fade in time. Given enough time.

Don’t be put off by the suspiciously hyperbolic blurbs you might read on the cover of this short novel. It really is just as astonishingly and surprisingly powerful as previous readers have discovered. Of course you have to be patient with it. It is not a familiar novelistic form. But your patience will be rewarded as wave after wave of the lives of folk wash over this land. And even if the consequence of their presence will be as minor as the ripples in the buried layer of sand formed by an ancient sea, those ripples are not nothing.

Certainly recommended.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
Visitation is a beautifully written, highly evocative history of a lakefront cottage outside of Berlin and its various inhabitants throughout the 20th Century. I'm sure I would have been more transported by the novel had I not previously read Olga Tokarczuk, Magdalena Tulli, and Tea Obreht whose
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books cover much of the same history and territory, but with the spice of magical realism that Erpenbeck's book lacks. Erpenbeck is particularly wonderful at evoking magical summer childhoods which counter later horrific events. Like Tokarczuk, Tulli and Obreht, there is finally in Erpenbeck's writing, a deep recognition that life itself goes on, although individual lives may be destroyed. The rhythm continues.
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LibraryThing member nancyewhite
A fever dream of a novel where characters and time are fluid but place stays the same. Largely dark with moments of beauty, it swoops in and out of German history including a harrowing look at the Holocaust. The chapters examine periods in the lives of people who are connected to a particular piece
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of property with each visitation bordered by a shorter chapter about 'The Gardener'. Although we become intimate with their darkest hours, the characters are barely described (think The Arichitect, The Family Friend, The Cloth Manufacturer etc.) Very, very recommended if you like nontraditional narrative that helps get to the heart of things.
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LibraryThing member beentsy
The imagery and rhythm of language in this book was gorgeous. Almost like a long poem or an ode to a place and people's experiences and pain.
LibraryThing member John
Jenny Erpenbeck: Visitation

The story of the novel focuses on a summer house by the side of a lake in Brandenburg. A young architect builds the house of his dreams, but the land has a dark history that begins with the drowning of a young woman and grows darker over the course of the century; the
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one-time Jewish owners of the house disappear; the Red Army requisitions the house and wrecks it; a young German tries to swim to freedom post-war; a couple return from a brutal exile in Siberia and try to rebuild their lives; the house is left to a granddaughter who has to relinquish her claim and sell to new owners intent on demolition. Erpenbeck traces the layers of German history in the 20th century through the house and its owners and inhabitants and in doing so, she gives individual faces to effects of social and political currents.

The novel is also a meditation on the essence of change In the world. Everything is transient. Everything fades, disappears, or is destroyed. This is true geologically over eons, centuries or less for empires and countries, maybe centuries or decades for political movements, two or three generations for memories, and lifespans for relationships and individuals. There is stability and continuity and strength In the land, and security in a sense of place. But change and the winds of war and prejudice and politics can destroy these too with millions of individual lives trammelled and fraught and twisted and destroyed.

An unnamed gardner appears periodically through the novel. He works and lives on the grounds of the house through decades. The seasonal rhythms of planting and arranging flowers and trees and harvesting fruits convey the stability that the land, and place, provide. Erpenbeck uses trees as a wonderful metaphor for life: "The eucalyptus trees rustle louder than any other tree Ludwig has ever heard, their rustling is louder than that of beeches, lindens or birches, louder than pines, oaks and alders. Ludwig loves this rustling...and always sits down...whenever opportunity presents itself, just to hear the wind caught amid their millions of silvery leaves"----as currents and winds of social and political change sweep across the lives of millions who have no more control than leaves in the wind.

Something often overlooked in histories of the war are the forced or 'voluntary' movements and dislocations of millions of people fleeing persecution or invading armies. Erpenbeck reminds that everyone of those millions was an individual life with hopes and fears and a desire to live. One elderly woman musing on her life and how she moved and moved again post war with her grandchildren: "...with each step you take while fleeing, your baggage grows less and less, with more and more left behind, and sooner or later you just stop and sit there, and then all that is left of life is life itself, and everything else is lying in all the ditches beside all the roads in a land as enormous as the air..."

It is not the main point of the novel, but it is a main point of German history, and Erpenbeck presents the brutality of individual Jewish deaths as well as the fundamental questions about seeing and not seeing what was happening. And having survived the Nazi era, those in East Germany then had to see/and not see again in a society when the rhetoric of equality overlay the realities of power and influence. A society captured by Milan Kundera's wonderful phrase: "On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath the unintelligible truth."

The novel wanders back and forth in time in the lives of some of the characters; often with a nostalgia for a time and place of security and comfort in family and place that is long gone. But Erpenbeck keeps this under control; her writing is direct and clear, almost deceptively so given the range and depth of issues and themes that she encompasses.

A recommended read.

ADDENDUM

The Holocaust is much written about in fiction and non-fiction. The best of the former are stories that bring to the personal level the horror of the destruction that is more than just the wanton waste of life but what became a bloodlust of killing beyond any rational human concept. Erpenbeck provides one of these stories.

Doris is 12 years old and living in the ghetto of Lodz. We have seen her earlier in the novel, at the house by the lake, but now she is hiding in a wall after the area of the ghetto has been cleared of all inhabitants. But she is discovered:

"Of the one hundred and twenty people in the boxcar, approximately thirty suffocate during the two-hour trip. As a motherless child, she is considered an inconvenience that might interfere with things running smoothly, and so the moment they arrive she is herded off to the side along with a few old people who cannot walk any longer and the ones who went mad during the trip, she is ushered past a pile of clothing as high as a mountain--like the Nackliger, she can't help thinking and remembers her own smile that she smiled that day when the gardner told her the funny name of the underwater shoal. For two minutes, a pale, partly cloudy sky arches above her just the way it would look down by the lake right before it rained, for two minutes she inhales the scent of pine trees she knows so well, but she cannot see the pine trees themselves because of the tall fence. Has she really come home? For two minutes she can feel the sand beneath her shoes along with a few pieces of flint and pebbles made of quartz or granite; then she takes off her shoes forever and goes to stand on the board to be shot.

Nothing is nicer than diving with your eyes open. Diving down as far as the shimmering legs of your mother and father who have just come back from swimming and now are wading to shore through the shallow water. Nothing is more fun than to tickle them and to hear, muffled by the water, how they shriek because they know it will make their child happy.

For three years the girl took piano lessons, but now, while her dead body slides down into the pit, the word piano is taken back from human beings, now the backflip on the high bar that the girl could perform better than her schoolmates is taken back, along with all the motions a swimmer makes, the gesture of seizing hold of a crab is taken back, as well as all the basic knots to be learned for sailing, all these things are taken back into uninventedness, and finally, last of all, the name of the girl herself is taken back, the name no one will ever again call her by: Doris."
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LibraryThing member bookomaniac
Dit is een boek dat zich moeilijk laat vatten. Erpenbeck brengt 12 korte stukken, telkens episodes uit een andere tijdsperiode van de Duitse geschiedenis van de afgelopen eeuw, geconcentreerd rond een landgoed aan een Brandenburgs meer. Maar zelfs die korte stukken lopen chronologisch door elkaar,
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mondjesmaat verneem je kleine details die relevant zijn om de andere personages en tijdsperiodes beter te kunnen plaatsen. Wat duidelijk is, is dat het landgoed ooit eigendom was van joden, na de tweede wereldoorlog in de DDR terecht kwam en dat er tot het einde betwisting was over het eigenaarschap (Erpenbeck speelt hier knap met de verschillende betekenissen van het Duitse woord 'heimsuchung'). Intussen worden gebouwen op het landgoed door diverse mensen bewoond en verbouwd, er zijn verregaande ingrepen in de tuin en aan de steiger die in het meer leidt; geregeld is er verval. De enige figuur die alles verbindt is de tuinman, maar die zegt geen woord: hij observeert en voert getrouw de nodige werkzaamheden uit, met veel zorgzaamheid. Pas heel geleidelijk dringt het door dat Erpenbeck heel de dramatiek en tragedie van de Duitse geschiedenis in dit al bij al beperkte boekje verwerkt heeft. Geen gemakkelijke lectuur dus, en bovendien is de stijl soms wel heel droog en onderkoeld, wat de heel erge dingen die ze soms beschrijft of suggereert een extra wrange bijsmaak geven). Een prestatie zonder weerga, daar is geen discussie over!
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LibraryThing member Ameise1
This book is a must-read. The language is so strong and colourful. I wasn't able to put it aside. It's the story about a house and a landscape which saw a lot of different inhabitants starting before WWII and ending nowadays. It's the story from a Jewish family who lost this house due to WWII but
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also the stories from people who were living in East Germany. There was a gardener who seemed the only one who had met all those different residents and also was the only one who knew how to care for the landscape and the wishes of every new owner. Alternately their is a chapter about the gardener and a resident. In each chapter there is the whole story of the person, where she/he cames from, his profession, all his family links, his love life, his anxieties and happiness. It's written with a great love and understanding for each character.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
This is an interesting book - a slightly quirky take on historical fiction.
using a lakeside house as the stable point, the author weaves the stories of the people coming and going against the history of East Germany in the 20th century as background.
Everything is told subtly. The horrors are
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referred to, but not directly. No polemics.
I really enjoyed the book and will be back for later books by this author.
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LibraryThing member imyril
I didn't like this as much as I wanted to. Beautifully written, almost lyrical in places, but it took a long time to capture even the faintest interest. The interconnected snapshots and non-chronological storytelling carry pathos (at times), but make it tricky to keep the threads clear - and I
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found it difficult to care too much.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Story of a house on a small parcel of lakeside property in Germany, and its inhabitants, over many decades. It covers a period from the late nineteenth century through the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A few families own the property and assume they will be there forever, but historic
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events occur, and they must leave. Some inhabitants move in illegally. The property is maintained by The Gardener. He performs the same tasks for each set of inhabitants, is never named, and never speaks.

It is a slim novel, poetically written. It conveys a sense of the impermanence of life. People come and go. The land remains the same. It is an original method of relating German history through people that occupy a house, what happens to them, and why they end up leaving. There is no “storyline” per se. It is, I think, intended to give the reader a sense of what happened without actually telling it in detail. It is certainly a creative approach and would be a great candidate for further literary analysis.

Memorable passages:

“Tonight, too, he puts his hands into the smooth, lustrous cloth, pulls it to his face, rubs it between his fingers, rubs the fabric’s rough inner surface against its rough inner surface, fills his lungs with the scent of peppermint and camphor before he closes the door and lies down on the bed, all around him the walls covered in pink silk; the balcony door is open to the darkness, and down in the garden the horses are softly neighing and pawing the earth and snorting in the huge muffled stall that extends all the way to the stars.”

“Sometimes he asks himself whether, if their two fathers had not acted as if in cahoots that day to make them playmates, his life would still have become his life. But life would no doubt have filled up with various other sorts of would-haves and probably been just as much his life as this one.”

“Perhaps eternal life already exists during a human lifetime, but since it looks different from what we’re hoping for—something that transcends everything that’s ever happened—since it looks instead like the old life we already knew, no one recognizes it.”
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LibraryThing member RickGeissal
What a powerful, small book this is. After a chapter or two I thought of quitting it - didn't like the format - but went ahead, and I am glad I did. The characters are interesting, the plot, such as it can be called a plot, is troubling, clear, painful and eye-opening. The craftswomanship of the
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writing is wonderful. This is a worthwhile novel that has lingered with me.
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LibraryThing member annbury
This novel is about a house built a hundred years ago, and about the people who lived in it up to some time near the present. The people -- several sets of related or unrelated people -- are far less distinct than the house, moving through time and space with some of the dreamlike character of
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ghosts, or memories. Time in the novel is tangled up, and it can be hard to sort out whose memories are being revealed. It is a fascinating book, but not an easy one to read.
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LibraryThing member Chris.Wolak
I was amazed by the emotion evoked with so few words. Short novel but I'm left feeling like I just finished a big, fat book. Will need to let it digest before I write more.
LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
"Was there anyone besides her left in the world? Now something is becoming clear to her that she has failed to consider all this time: If no one knows she exists any longer, who will know there is a world when she is no longer there?"

best novel I've ever read on the impermanence of existence
LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Well, well, well. Partly prose poetry, beautifully constructed, very moving. A story of a place. The humans come and go, as do houses and trees and docks and boats by the lake. The lake is in East Germany near Berlin and I'm not sure when the narrative starts (excluding the glacier) sometime in the
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twentieth century, but finishes at German re-unification. Does not shy away from suicide, rape, war and genocide so heartbreaking at times but given a bit of distance.
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LibraryThing member AmaliaGavea
‘’In a household where a death has taken place, the clock must be stopped at once.’’

It is easy to stop the clocks when Death has arrived in a house. The rules are simple. Stop the clocks, cover the mirrors, open the doors and windows to let the soul fly free, whisper it to the birds and the
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bees. What happens when Death has covered an entire country under a dark veil? What happens when Death has conquered an entire continent, the entire world with Hatred and Tyranny as his faithful followers? You cannot stop the clock nor cover the mirrors. You cannot turn back the time, you cannot search for a new home. You can only pray that the suffering will not last long. This is the journey of the characters in this outstanding book by Jenny Erpenbeck.

‘’The dandelions are the same here as back home, and so are the larks.’’

A house by a lake outside Berlin stands witness to a turbulent, troubling course. From the days of the Weimar Republic, through the bloody path of two World Wars with devastating results for the country and the entire world, stopping in a nightmarish terror state reflected in the German ‘’Democratic Republic’’ (what a choice of words to name a totalitarian factory of deceit and oppression….) to the Reunification and a fragile future. 12 characters, whose lives are irrevocably depended on and altered by the fate of their land where the notion of ‘’home’’ has been lost, in a haunting, dark version of Chaucer’s Tales, albeit much more powerful and poignant. Dark fables narrating a journey of loss and violence.

‘’Now no one knows she is here any longer. All around her everything is black, and the care of this black chamber is she herself. The circumstance that there isn’t even a narrow crack to let the light in is intended to save her life, but it also means there is no longer anything differentiating her from the darkness.’’

Jenny Erpenbeck writes unlike any other writer I’ve ever had the fortune to read. I have never come across such a powerful blend of darkness, poetry, exposure of the subconscious, dread for what is to come and deep sadness and guilt for all that could not be prevented. This is evident in her masterpiece The End of Days and in Visitation. Her writing is like a glorious ivy that grows and grows and still has certain parts that are unseen by the sun. Beautiful symbolism, clarity through metaphors, themes that are linked to each other, images that are lurking in a cold corner, waiting to enter your mind. Customs of marriage and death co-exist with memories of a bloody past, a terrifying present, a hope that something will change. Once again, War shows itself as the greatest culprit, a plague not by God but by human beings that are ignorant of every basic virtue and sense. War as a chance for uneducated fools to exert control. War as the ultimate weapon for tyrants. War as the nightmare that will always be by our side as long as the human race exists.

‘’When you’ve arrived, can you still be said to be fleeing? And when you’re fleeing, can you ever arrive?’’

The Architect is the symbol of the open wound of a country torn in two, reflected in the presence of the S-Bahn, walking in the streets of a divided Berlin, reaching Friedrichstraße. A girl of Jewish descent tries to save herself in a story that immediately brought Polanski’s The Pianist to mind. A farmer tries to arrange his daughters’ fortune, an officer of the Red Army is defeated by his own weapon, a writer tries to satisfy everyone in order to buy a house, a visitor is a stranger among strangers. At the centre of the journey, we find the House and the Gardener whose life becomes dependant on it. I felt that the Gardener was given the most prominent role, perhaps as a symbol of our capacity to plant and reap, to create and to destroy. Our dubious connection to Nature, our desire and ability to create beauty and the million ways we invent to rape her and her creatures.

Keep in mind that these aren’t characters in the traditional sense of the word but symbols, archetypes of the people who have experienced the tragedy and horror of War throughout the centuries. They represent fears, hopes, shuttered dreams. Resilience and Faith. It would be a mistake to consider them as actual characters.

Beautifully translated by Susan Bernofsky, Visitation is a literary masterpiece created by a writer who clearly demonstrates that even the most unutterable horrors can acquire an eerie, frightening beauty in the hands of a truly gifted artist. This is true Literature, a word we have begun to forget…

‘’To whom do these words now belong in such darkness?’’
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LibraryThing member kewing
The 'Visitation' is the biography of a place, the trees and plants that grow there, the home built in that place, and the people who live, inhabit, visit, work, and pass through the place; but it's also more than that. It's about inclusion and exclusion and the consequences of both, about
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relationships with each other and with a place, about attachment and engagement and letting go. It's about permanence and impermanence and ephemerality (of place and time). Each paragraph is a discrete prose poem, a small detail of a story that stands on its own, that build on each other and collectively build into a whole; the writing is brilliant. Erpenbeck chooses each word with care and Bernofsky, the translator, is excellent. A surprising and astonishing novel.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Near a German village was a lake and woods. Over time, various people lived here, changing the landscape, the house and gardens. Using changes in point of view every view pages, their stories show the inconstancy of just about every change made by Jew, German, Russian, immigrant and native. Nothing
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remains constant, not even the landscape, whose changes are just slower than that of the owners of the house property.

Despite being short (150 pages), this is a difficult little book. There are no quotations marks to show dialog, and changes in speaker often happen in the same paragraph. Time is extremely fluid. Though the chronology generally moves forward, you have to really pay attention to figure out what time period is being reference - before World War 2, some time after it. In one section, time moves back and forth between paragraphs with little or no warning, taking me several pages to work out what was being done. Definitely different in plot and melancholy in tone, I would recommend it to fans of literary fiction.
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LibraryThing member bodachliath
A spare, stark, beautifully poetic miniature that tells the story of a house by a lake in the Brandenburg area of East Germany from the early 20th century to the present day. The structure of the book is unusual, and resembles Simon Mawer's The Glass Room, in which a place remains constant while a
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shifting cast of occupants, tenants, invaders and usurpers uses and abuses it for a variety of different purposes. This allows Erpenbeck to explore ideas of belonging to a place, ownership, inheritance and how these can be altered at the whim of larger historical events - this is quite reminiscent of Erpenbeck's more recent The End of Days. Each chapter follows one of the occupants, and is followed by a brief interlude focusing on the gardener who is the only figure who links every section of the story, though his role changes as he gets older. The writing uses folklore elements and key sentences are often repeated several times at different stages of a chapter.
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ISBN

081121835X / 9780811218351
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