Book Review: We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2011)

Release: 11 February 2011

For the next stage of my 2016 international book project I have chosen, from Denmark, Carsten Jensen‘s We, the Drowned. All that comes to mind when I think about it is what an incredible journey. The are very few books out there that have so completely captivated and consumed me. I could not set it down, and the few moments when I was forced to do something else I could feel it calling to me. Much like the call to the sea experienced by the Danish characters, I continually was drawn back in. My first decision to pick up the book were heavily influenced by a reddit post that declared the book the spiritual successor to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s One Hundred Years Of Solitude. As someone who can’t stop thinking about One Hundred Years Of Solitude almost a year after having read it, and someone who might declare it to be the most perfect book he has ever encountered, let me just say that this was no slight praise. After finishing the novel I found the comparison understandable, though the book fails to reach the perfection that is One Hundred Years Of Solitude. I can’t say I’m surprised, those are some lofty shoes to fill. Still, the book was magnificent and easily one of the best books I’ve read (just not THE best).

The story focuses on one town over nearly a hundred years. It delves into the relationships between villagers, sailors, their families and most importantly the sea. By developing a lengthy history, that the reader experiences, when past difficulties or relationships play up in the later book the reader can’t help but feel like one of the established “we”. It reads not just as a history of a town, but it reads as though you are a part of that history, or at least a silent witness to the events that shaped it. It establishes the feeling of togetherness between reader and town better than One Hundred Years of Solitude, but fails to come together as completely and as thrillingly.

Change is really the subject of the book, how difficult and trying change can be, particularly for this small town that developed its livelihood on sailing. The period of one hundred years leading up to WWII was a period with some immense changes in the shipping industry, and these are the same changes that book grapples with. When it comes to climax in WWII it really does feel like the end of the world, or at least the end of a way of life. The struggles and families are developed beautifully and naturally that all the changes and losses to sailing traditions seem like a shame. The necessity of change is established, but so is the beauty of traditions. It is a simple comparison, but one that seems to run throughout the novel.

This is an adventure I would highly recommend to everyone. It features all the common seafaring tropes, but in a fresh and engrossing way. It has drama and adventure, moments of humor and sadness. It is a remarkable journey that reflects rollercoaster of life. The emotions, the changes, the relationship to history and tradition are all represented. They are more concise and more vivid, more final (in a story arch sense) and more vivid than real life usually is, but they still create these comparisons in the readers mind. It is a must read that I would give a 5 out of 5.

35 Novels From 35 Countries

  1. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (United Kingdom)
  2. We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (Denmark)



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