Go, Went, Gone
New York Times Notable Book 2018; Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2018; Lois Roth Award Winner
An unforgettable German bestseller about the European refugee crisis: “Erpenbeck will get under your skin” (Washington Post Book World)
Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, “one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation” (The Millions). The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired classics professor who lives in Berlin. His wife has died, and he lives a routine existence until one day he spies some African refugees staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz. Curiosity turns to compassion and an inner transformation, as he visits their shelter, interviews them, and becomes embroiled in their harrowing fates. Go, Went, Gone is a scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis, but also a touching portrait of a man who finds he has more in common with the Africans than he realizes. Exquisitely translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses one of the most pivotal issues of our time, facing it head-on in a voice that is both nostalgic and frightening.
The staid existences of elderly Berliners and the fraught, uncertain trajectories of African refugees intersect in Erpenbeck's melancholy and affecting novel. The conduit for this intersection is the widowed Richard, a recently retired classics professor, whose search for an occupation leads him to a nearby nursing home where a group of refugees is housed while the government deliberates regarding their right to live and work in Germany. Becoming a regular visitor to the home, Richard befriends Awad, a Ghanaian who had been living in Libya before emigrating to Germany, and Rashid, whose family was violently attacked during a religious holiday in Nigeria and who has not seen his mother in 13 years. Awad, Rashid, and the other young men, with their stories of violence and loss, share the traumatic experience of entering Europe via a perilous maritime route, in which "the passengers below deck had no chance at all when their boat capsized." Subtly, Erpenbeck (The End of Days) suggests that the refugees and the Germans have in common a history of displacement: Richard and his friends "are post-war children" who were citizens of East Germany, then saw the system "under which they'd lived most of their lives" collapse. The narrative emerges as an insightful call to conscience and an undeniable argument for our common humanity.
A different kind of mystery. Well worth reading