Go, Went, Gone is a novel by the German author Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky. It is a beautiful book, and another powerful and moving story about the immigrant and refugee crisis in Europe. The novel’s protagonist, Richard, is a retired and widowed academic, trying to find a new pathway in his new life. In the midst of his own journey, he walks by the African refugees camped out in Berlin, news from the headlines of our times. He decides to make an effort with them, and the story unfolds from there.
Erpenbeck writes a gentle and compelling story. It reflects the humanity on all sides, and reminds us of the strength of relationships. Richard’s thoughts about himself in retirement are also useful reflections on all parts of our lives.
Here are some quote from this novel:
Much of what Richard reads on this November day several weeks after his retirement are things he’s known most of his life, but today, thanks to this bit of additional knowledge he’s acquired, its all seems to come together in new, different ways. How many times, he wonders, must a person relearn everything he knows, rediscovering it over and over, and how many coverings must be torn away before he’s finally able to truly grasp things, to understand them to the bone? Is a human lifetime long enough? His lifetime, or anyone else’s? (p. 142)
At exactly midnight when the corks start popping, guests hug and kiss, rockets are fired off and sparklers waved around. Richard just stands there, wondering what the beginning of a new year really means. He’s never quite understood what’s supposed to be departing in that final decisive second, while at the same time something new – something you can’t know yet – suddenly presents itself. Sometimes in past years he’s tried to concentrate on this future that was apparently arriving at just this moment. But how do you concentrate on something you don’t know yet? Who’s going to die? Who’ll be born? The older he gets, the more grateful he is to have just as little idea as anyone else what is in store. (p. 207)
Could these long years of peacetime be to blame for the fact that a new generation of politicians apparently believes we’ve now arrive at the end of history, making it possible to use violence to suppress all further movement and change? Or have the people living here under untroubled circumstances and at so great a distance from the wars of others have been afflicted with a poverty of experience, a sort of emotional anemia? Must living is peace – so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world – inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war? (p. 241)
Here also are a couple great reviews about this novel: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/25/a-novelists-powerful-response-to-the-refugee-crisis; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/books/review/go-went-gone-jenny-erpenbeck.html
Another great book for conversation.