Thursday, 20 March 2014

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2.5/5)

First published: 2008
Original title: Heimsuchung
Original language: German
Translation to English by: Susan Bernofsky, 2010

Page count: 150

The back says: By the side of a lake in Brandenburg, a young architect builds the house of his dreams - a summerhouse with wrought-iron balconies, stained-glass windows the colour of jewels, and a bedroom with a hidden closet, all set within a beautiful garden. But the land on which he builds has a dark history of violence that began with the drowning of a young woman in the grip of madness and that grows darker still over the course of the century: the Jewish neighbours disappear one by one; the Red Army requisitions the house, burning the furniture and trampling the garden; a young East German attempts to swim his way to freedom in the West; a couple return from brutal exile in Siberia and leave the house to their granddaughter, who is forced to relinquish her claim upon it and sell to new owners intent upon demolition. Reaching far into the past, and recovering what was lost and what was buried, Jenny Erpenbeck tells a story both beautiful and brutal, about the things that haunt a home.

I say: This was a rather painful exhausting read that I had to fight my way through. It started out interesting enough, but then quickly descended into too many detailed descriptions of the gardening and work being done on the property.

Why would anyone care about the precise measurements or how often the garden was watered?


Furthermore the entire text was too repetitive. Espenbeck would literally repeat the same sentences and passages several times on the same page. It was not beautiful and did not cement what was being communicated, but merely served to annoy – especially considering how short the novel is.

Having said all that I liked the idea of the house being at the centre of so many lives. Each person has their own chapter, and they’re all tied together by the only constant; the gardener’s chapters - positioned between the other chapters and annoying the hell out of me – showing the house and garden from a rather neutral point of view. Some of the chapters were interesting and even emotionally powerful, but unfortunately they were eclipsed by the prose, which is a shame because Espenbeck had a nice way of entangling all the people who visited the house.
So, 2.5/5 more because of what could have been than what was.

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