We, the Drowned

We, the Drowned

3.7 25
by Carsten Jensen
     
 

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This international bestseller about generations of men who go to sea and the women and children they leave behind is a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure. Cannibals, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, tragedies, and survival--this book is destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.See more details below

Overview

This international bestseller about generations of men who go to sea and the women and children they leave behind is a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure. Cannibals, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, tragedies, and survival--this book is 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547504674
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
02/09/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
688
Sales rank:
164,366
File size:
2 MB

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.

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.

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