We, the Drowned

We, the Drowned

3.7 26
by Carsten Jensen
     
 

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Carsten Jensen’s debut novel has taken the world by storm. Already hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, whose inhabitants have sailed the world’s oceans aboard freight ships for centuries. Spanning over a hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War,

Overview

Carsten Jensen’s debut novel has taken the world by storm. Already hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, whose inhabitants have sailed the world’s oceans aboard freight ships for centuries. Spanning over a hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War, and from the barren rocks of Newfoundland to the lush plantations of Samoa, from the roughest bars in Tasmania, to the frozen coasts of northern Russia, We, the Drowned spins a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure, a tale of the men who go to sea and the women they leave behind.

Ships are wrecked at sea and blown up during wars, they are places of terror and violence, yet they continue to lure each generation of Marstal men—fathers and sons—away. Strong, resilient, women raise families alone and sometimes take history into their own hands. There are cannibals here, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, devastating tragedies, and miraculous survivals—everything that a town like Marstal has actually experienced, and that makes We, the Drowned an unforgettable novel, destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.

Editorial Reviews

Peter Behrens
When was the last time you relished sitting down with a 678-page Danish novel? We, the Drowned might just be too much book to tote to the beach next summer, but it's powerful reading for a long winter's night. For many nights, in fact…[a] gorgeous, unsparing novel…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
An international hit, this bold seafaring epic spans 100 years in the lives of the men and women from a small town on an island off the Danish coast. Starting with the war between Germany and Denmark in 1848 and continuing through WWII, the men of Marstal sail, fight, trade, and die at sea while the women raise their children and wait for their husbands' and sons' uncertain return. The story loosely follows one family, the Madsens, beginning with the legendary Laurids Madsen, "best known for having single-handedly started a war," and then his son, Albert, and a boy named Knud Erik, whom Albert takes under his wing. From adventures on the storm-ravaged seas and in exotic lands, to battles in town over the shipping industry and family life, dozens of stories coalesce into an odyssey taut with action and drama and suffused with enough heart to satisfy readers who want more than the breakneck thrills of ships battling the elements. By the time readers turn the final page, they will have come to intimately know this town and its sailors who tear out across an unforgiving sea. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
We, The Drowned is "most memorable for the sheer gusto of its narrative. The author ennobles the old-fashioned art of storytelling by showing how the relating of a tale can itself foster a spirit of fellowship... We, The Drowned is itself a monument to the way that history can be made epic through legend."
-The Wall Street Journal

"As an epic of grand design, We, The Drowned is a thumping success."
-The San Francisco Chronicle

"Powerful reading for a long winter's night... This gorgeous, unsparing novel ends during the last days of World War II with a captain struggling to bring his crew home after their ship is torpedoed. The sea is Marstal's life and Jensen's unstrained metaphor: luring the Marstallers away from home, offering uncertain passage and providing few harbors that are safe for long."
-The Washington Post

"From adventures on the storm-ravaged seas and in exotic lands, to battles in town over the shipping industry and family life, dozens of stories coalesce into an odyssey taut with action and drama and suffused with enough heart to satisfy readers who want more than the breakneck thrills of ships battling the elements."
-Publishers Weekly (starred)

"For all the brutality and suspense in the manner of Conrad, Melville, and Stevenson, Jensen's oceanic novel (already a bestseller overseas and gorgeously translated) is tenderly human . . . Jensen's resplendent saga, an epic voyage of the imagination, is mesmerizing in its unsparing drama, fascinating in its knowledge of the sea, wryly humorous, and profound in its embrace of compassion, reason, and justice." 
Booklist (starred)

"Expertly told . . . Jensen is a sympathetic storyteller with an eye for the absurd, with the result that if this novel descends from Moby-Dick, it also looks to The Tin Drum for inspiration . . . An elegant meditation on life, death, and the ways of the sea." 
Kirkus Reviews

"...vast and daring... rich, powerful and rewarding... one of the more engrossing literary vorages of recent years."
-The Financial Times (UK)

"Carsten Jensen is without doubt one of the most exciting authors in Nordic literature today. I always wait with great anticipation for his books. He is, in my opinion, completely unique as a story teller." 
—Henning Mankell

"A novel of immense authority and ambition and beauty, by a master storyteller at the height of his powers. This is a book to sail into, to explore, to get lost in, but it is also a book that brings the reader, dazzled by wonders, home to the heart from which great stories come." 
—Joseph O’Connor, author of Star of the Sea

Library Journal
This long and solid first novel tells an epic multi-generational story of the maritime community of Marstal, Denmark, beginning in the mid-19th century, with Laurids Madsen, a sailor conscripted into the makeshift Danish navy during the country's war with Germany. After the war, Laurids signs on to a ship and sails off, never to be seen or heard from again. Enter his son, Albert, who sails the oceans in search of his father and undergoes many harrowing and strange experiences before returning to Marstal a wealthy man. Albert befriends a young widow and tries to provide companionship for her son Knud Erik but is later drawn into a complicated and tragic relationship with the boy's mother. Albert dies, which turns the story over to Knud Erik as he, too, goes to sea, over his mother's objections. She has inherited Albert's wealth and has made it her mission to end the town's tragic relationship to the sea, which leaves many men dead and makes many women widows. VERDICT Starting off slowly, Jensen's novel builds momentum and becomes quite thrilling and engaging on many levels, from adventures on the high seas to devastating personal dramas in a small community at the mercy of the forces of nature and history. It may not appeal to a large audience, but it won't disappoint those willing to make the effort.—Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
Kirkus Reviews

A bestselling Danish novel, by journalist and foreign correspondent Jensen, that chronicles the long-suffering inhabitants of a port city over the course of a century.

Call him Laurids, one of the two kinds of people who populate Jensen's Homeric catalogue: the drowned and the saved, the latter of whom usually wind up drowned anyway. Laurids Madsden "went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots," as Jensen whimsically writes—though, he adds, Laurids never got farther north than the top of his main mast before death spat him back out. Laurids is a veteran of wars and long circumnavigations of the globe, and, now a captain in middle age, childless and unmarried, he faces the difficult task of figuring out how to move about on the dry land of his home. Says one of his neighbors, "You call Marstal a sailors' town, but do you know what I call it? I call it a town of wives. It's the women who live here. The men are just visiting."Those women, Jensen's omniscient narrator tells us, "live in a state of permanent uncertainty," for those men are in the habit of disappearing for two or three years at a time and battling very long odds of survival, to say nothing of heavily armed Germans. Hope is either a greening plant or an open wound, the narrator adds, and so the people of Marstal go about their business not quite knowing who among them is living or dead. Jensen (I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels Through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam, 2002, etc.) peoples his long, expertly told saga with figures from Danish history as well as of his own invention, from Crown Prince Frederik to a ship's captain who "remained equally pale in summer and winter, in northern hemisphere and southern," and all with the usual frailties and foibles. Jensen is a sympathetic storyteller with an eye for the absurd, with the result that if this novel descends fromMoby-Dick, it also looks toThe Tin Drumfor inspiration.

"Is there anything more heartbreaking than drowning in sight of land?" asks our narrator—and we know the answer. An elegant meditation on life, death and the ways of the sea.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547504674
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
02/09/2011
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
688
Sales rank:
57,154
File size:
5 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Boots

Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots.
 He didn’t soar as high as the tip of the mast on a full-rigged ship; in fact he got no farther than the main. Once up there, he stood outside the pearly gates and saw Saint Peter — though the guardian of the gateway to the Hereafter merely flashed his bare ass at him.
 Laurids Madsen should have been dead. But death didn’t want him, and he came back down a changed man.
 Until the fame he achieved from this heavenly visit, Laurids Madsen was best known for having single-handedly started a war. His father, Rasmus, had been lost at sea when Laurids was six years old. When he turned fourteen he shipped aboard the Anna of Marstal, his native town on the island of Ærø, but the ship was lost in the Baltic only three months later. The crew was rescued by an American brig and from then on Laurids Madsen dreamt of America.
 He’d passed his navigation exam in Flensburg when he was eighteen and the same year he was shipwrecked again, this time off the coast of Norway near Mandal, where he stood on a rock with the waves slapping on a cold October night, scanning the horizon for salvation. For the next five years he sailed the seven seas. He went south around Cape Horn and heard penguins scream in the pitch-black night. He saw Valparaiso, the west coast of America, and Sydney, where the kangaroos hop and the trees shed bark in winter and not their leaves. He met a girl with eyes like grapes by the name of Sally Brown, and could tell stories about Foretop Street, La Boca, Barbary Coast, and Tiger Bay. He boasted about his first equator crossing, when he’d saluted Neptune and felt the bump as the ship passed the line: his fellow sailors had marked the occasion by forcing him to drink salt water, fish oil, and vinegar; they’d baptized him in tar, lamp soot, and glue; shaved him with a rusty razor with dents in its blade; and tended to his cuts with stinging salt and lime. They made him kiss the ocher-colored cheek of the pockmarked Amphitrite and forced his nose down her bottle of smelling salts, which they’d filled with nail clippings.
 Laurids Madsen had seen the world.
 So had many others. But he was the only one to return to Marstal with the peculiar notion that everything there was too small, and to prove his point, he frequently spoke in a foreign tongue he called American, which he’d learned when he sailed with the naval frigate Neversink for a year.
 “Givin nem belong mi Laurids Madsen,” he said.

He had three sons and a daughter with Karoline Grube from Nygade: Rasmus, named after his grandfather, and Esben and Albert. The girl’s name was Else and she was the oldest. Rasmus, Esben, and Else took after their mother, who was short and taciturn, while Albert resembled his father: at the age of four he was already as tall as Esben, who was three years his senior. His favorite pastime was rolling around an English cast-iron cannonball, which was far too heavy for him to lift — not that it stopped him from trying. Stubborn-faced, he’d brace his knees and strain.
 “Heave away, my jolly boys! Heave away, my bullies!” Laurids shouted in encouragement, as he watched his youngest son struggling with it.
 The cannonball had come crashing through the roof of their house in Korsgade during the English siege of Marstal in 1808, and it had put Laurids’s mother in such a fright that she promptly gave birth to him right in the middle of the kitchen floor. When little Albert wasn’t busy with the cannonball it lived in the kitchen, where Karoline used it as a mortar for crushing mustard seeds. “It could have been you announcing your arrival, my boy,” Laurids’s father had once said to him, “seeing how big you were when you were born. If the stork had dropped you, you would have gone through the roof like an English cannonball.”
 “Finggu,” Laurids said, holding up his finger.
 He wanted to teach the children the American language.
 Fut meant foot. He pointed to his boot. Maus was mouth.
 He rubbed his belly when they sat down to eat. He bared his teeth.
 “Hanggre.”
 They all understood he was telling them he was hungry.
 Ma was misis, Pa papa tru. When Laurids was absent, they said “Mother” and “Father” like normal children, except for Albert. He had a special bond with his father.
 The children had many names, pickaninnies, bullies, and hearties.
 “Laihim tumas,” Laurids said to Karoline, and pursed his lips as if he was about to kiss her.
 She blushed and laughed, and then got angry.
 “Don’t be such a fool, Laurids,” she said.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
We, The Drowned is "most memorable for the sheer gusto of its narrative. The author ennobles the old-fashioned art of storytelling by showing how the relating of a tale can itself foster a spirit of fellowship... We, The Drowned is itself a monument to the way that history can be made epic through legend."
-Wall Street Journal

"As an epic of grand design, We, The Drowned is a thumping success."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Powerful reading for a long winter's night... This gorgeous, unsparing novel ends during the last days of World War II with a captain struggling to bring his crew home after their ship is torpedoed. The sea is Marstal's life and Jensen's unstrained metaphor: luring the Marstallers away from home, offering uncertain passage and providing few harbors that are safe for long."
Washington Post

"From adventures on the storm-ravaged seas and in exotic lands, to battles in town over the shipping industry and family life, dozens of stories coalesce into an odyssey taut with action and drama and suffused with enough heart to satisfy readers who want more than the breakneck thrills of ships battling the elements."
Publishers Weekly

"For all the brutality and suspense in the manner of Conrad, Melville, and Stevenson, Jensen's oceanic novel (already a bestseller overseas and gorgeously translated) is tenderly human . . . Jensen's resplendent saga, an epic voyage of the imagination, is mesmerizing in its unsparing drama, fascinating in its knowledge of the sea, wryly humorous, and profound in its embrace of compassion, reason, and justice." 
Booklist

"Expertly told . . . Jensen is a sympathetic storyteller with an eye for the absurd, with the result that if this novel descends from Moby-Dick, it also looks to The Tin Drum for inspiration . . . An elegant meditation on life, death, and the ways of the sea." 
Kirkus Reviews

"...vast and daring... rich, powerful and rewarding... one of the more engrossing literary vorages of recent years."
Financial Times (UK)

"Carsten Jensen is without doubt one of the most exciting authors in Nordic literature today. I always wait with great anticipation for his books. He is, in my opinion, completely unique as a story teller." 
—Henning Mankell

"A novel of immense authority and ambition and beauty, by a master storyteller at the height of his powers. This is a book to sail into, to explore, to get lost in, but it is also a book that brings the reader, dazzled by wonders, home to the heart from which great stories come." 
—Joseph O’Connor, author of Star of the Sea

Meet the Author

As a boy in Marstal, Denmark, CARSTEN JENSEN sailed on his father’s boat, a 220-ton freighter named the Abelone. In 2000, he returned to Marstal to write We, the Drowned. He has also worked as a literary critic and a journalist, reporting from China, Cambodia, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and Afghanistan.

We, the Drowned won Denmark’s most important literary prize, while also being selected by readers of a major daily newspaper as the best Danish novel of the last twenty-five years. It was a bestseller throughout Scandinavia and in Germany, and has also been published in the United Kingdom, Spain, and France.

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We, the Drowned 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
paulwoodford More than 1 year ago
I'm on page 205 of We, the Drowned, and am disappointed with the number of typos encountered so far. In addition to missing words here and there, on almost every page there are superfluous letters and characters in the spaces between words. Like E this, or ' this. This is not trivial. I paid a premium price for this Nookbook and shouldn't have to stumble over typographical errors every page or two. What's keeping major publishers from proofreading books after the electronic reader conversion process? The price of a day's wages for a single copy editor? How much could that cost? A hundred bucks? Less than that? No one would put up with errors like these in a hardcover or paperback book. We shouldn't put up with it in e-books, either. When I Google "typos in e-books" I get over 200,000 results with titles like "too many errors and typos in Kindle e-books," and "lousy proofreading in e-books." One member of a B&N Nookbook forum says he writes down every typo and formatting error he encounters, with the page numbers on which they occur, and sends them into the publisher. To date, he says, he's received no responses. Most of these complaints date back at least a year. It's a known issue, one the booksellers and publishers are certainly well aware of. Why hasn't it been fixed? I wrote to Barnes & Noble today, asking them to credit my account for the $15.40 I paid for this e-book. I also asked them to use their considerable clout to persuade publishing houses to do a better job of editing the e-books they sell. You should too.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"We, The Drowned" by Carsten Jensen is a spellbinding, award winning (Danske Banks Litteraturpris) fictional book which spans 100 years in the lives of the inhabitants of the small Danish coastal town Marstal. Jensen's debut novel is already hailed as an instant classic and rightfully so. Laurids Madsen goes off to fight the Germans along with other men of the town of Marstal in 1848. Laurids ends up on a boat which explodes and sends him up to the heavens, only to land in safely in his heavy boots, claiming he showed St. Peter his ass. However Laurids is lost to Marstal and abandons his family. Albert Madsen, Laurids' son sails in search of his missing father. Albert finds seedy company, warfare and a shrunken head. Upon his return Marstal begins to change rapidly as the women try and reclaim the men from the ocean. Albert mentors the small boy Knud Eric who grows up to be a sailor as well, against his mother's wishes. Through Knud's eyes we see World War II, how he becomes a man and, together with other Marstal natives, fights the Nazis. The characters in the book come right off the page. The whole town comes alive and the reader gets to know the main characters as well as the supporting cast. The women who go on living with their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons off for years on a voyage who they might, and often not, come back. We get to feel the anxieties and aspirations of the sailors, the plight of the women as well as the town's children. The subject matter of this book is not pretty and often brutal. Marstal is a town of sailors with a famous nautical college - any citizen who is not at sea can easily feel bitter. Such is school master Isager, a sadistic sad man who after a day of physically and mentally punishing the kids has to go home so his "fat and psychopathic [wife] would thrash [him]". (Forgive me Roger Waters). "We, The Drowned" makes a vivid and lucid point how a commercially successful society (the town of Marstal) can live in peaceful avoidance of the fact that their prosperity comes at the expanse and misery of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. The political & social commentary along with an ambitious story and vivid characters is a winning combination. The character of Albert Madsen, who returns from a voyage to find his missing father serves as the book's, and the town's, moral center. Albert mentors the young Knud Erik, the hero of the second half of the book. Much like life this is not a tidy book, the colorful stories which the author claims have a grain of truth in many of them, turn from tidy to wild with an uplifting and sobering message at the end. Much of the book explores the sense of community and the morality a small town vs. the closed universe of a ship vs. religion. All different but also have many things in common. This book is an adventure story, romance, coming of age, a tale of war, love and lost rolled into one. The novel is brilliant, funny and heartwarming told through fabulous writing which beg to be savored. The closing paragraphs are what tie the book together and are a masterpiece all by themselves. Great job by translators Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder - one of the best translated books I've ever read. Bottom line: I cannot say enough good things about this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story began at a different pace than it ended. It ran about 80 pages too long. I was disappointed in how it dragged near the end. I felt like I was sitting in an elderly seafarer's den, listening to his endless yarns... I would not recommend it.
knittingnancy More than 1 year ago
This book almost defies classification into a strict genre'. I found it a true breath of fresh air. Using real character names, the author weaves a fictional maritime history of a coastal town in Denmark from 1848 to WWII, starting with one character being blown skyward from the deck of a sailing vessel. He lands back on his feet and his miraculous boots become the device used to begin the tale of his progendy. At times the narritive is almost too bizarre to believe...or is it? A vicious prank played upon the hated school master sends a group of schoolboys scattering all over the world at a time when everything was changing, both in Denmark, in technology as well as the maritime industry. This hefty volume hasn't got a boring page in it. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a great story. It is beautifully written and skillfully translated.
Ron Ben-menachem More than 1 year ago
I have read thousands of books. This is one of the best books I've ever read. It's a true masterpiece and an immediate classic. It tells the story of a Danish sea town and it's people over a hundred year and three generations. It is happy, it is sad, it is real, it is imaginary, it is funny and it is tragic. It is about the sea and about war, about love and about friendship. It is the reason I love books. Don't skip this one.
ClrkGrzwld More than 1 year ago
If you are like me and like sea stories. Add a bonus of realistic characters that you can care about, read this book. Thought provoking, shot through with some dark humor and adventure. Good stuff.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Interesting historial saga. Not crazy about the dream sequence , and miss sophie at the end was far fetched, but overall good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was really excited to read this book but it ended up being a slog to get through because of the odd narrative voice. Not sure if it's the source or the translator that's the source of the issue. In either case it's very off-putting. I recommend you read The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson instead.
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Adaptoid More than 1 year ago
Possibly the greatest novel I've read. I can't recall a time I've been so emotionally affected by literature. I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and I higky recomend it, especily for readers that like action and a lot of story line. It was a bit annoying when one of my favorite characters died, but I love it anyways. ~Deep
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Who is this r u insane