Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

by Jenny Erpenbeck
Originally published in Germany as Heimsuchung by Eichborn Verlag, 2008
Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky
Edition I read by New Directions, 2010 

Visitation is a short novel, only 192 pages long, but Erpenbeck’s sparse prose (and Bernofsky’s translation) coupled with the sweep of history touched upon in snippets of various character’s lives left me with the feeling that I had just read a thick tome.  Erpenbeck shows that less is not only more, but that it can be magical and painful as readers are left to fill in what their imaginations so desire.

The main character of Visitation is not a person, but a house.  No, not even the house, but the land that the house sits on is the main character. The house represents human need and is something readers can understand–the need for creative expression, memory, safety, refuge, as well greed, violence, denial, and possession, among other things. The land that the house sits on is at the shores of Brandenburg lake just outside Berlin.  Location, location, location.

The human characters come and go and sometimes come back in this novel—the landed gentry, the Jews, the Nazis, the Communists, the Capitalists.  Other than the land, the only constant, for a long time anyway, is the Gardner.  I am curious about which characters stick with me and what that says about me; why and when I may like and then not like a particular character; which ones I’ve already forgotten and recall only after flipping back through the book in admiration of Erpenbeck’s genius.

I was both excited and exhausted after finishing the book–excited by Erpenbeck’s writing and storytelling, but rather exhausted by this trip that shows how humans are impacted by their governments and other social constructions which separate us even as we long for connection.

I don’t remember where I first heard about Visitation, but I do know that I heard about it because its up for an award, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the winner of which will be announced on May 26, 2011.

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