Book 20 – We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen

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An epic story and an epic read.

I picked up “We, The Drowned” in the library because I liked the cover illustration and also because I like a good sea story. It didn’t disappoint.

The narrative covers the fictional history of the seafaring men of the Danish town of Marstal and the women they left behind from 1848  to 1945. The narration is often in the first person plural, the “we” referring to the town itself.  The stories of three main characters dominate the tale; first Laurids Marstal, who survived the war of 1848 and ended his days as a washed out wreck of a man in Samoa, then his son Albert, who sailed many years as a captain (after acquiring the shrunken head of Captain Cook), come home to a prosperous life as a shipowner, suffered years of prophetic, explicit dreams aboout the fate of his townsmen in the Great War and finally froze to death standing in his boots. The final section of the book concentrates on Knud Erik Friis, Albert’s adopted son (sort of).  Estranged from his mother, who in a side-plot rises from poverty to own half the town and deliberately destroy its prosperity, Knud Erik goes to sea and stays there and ends up as captain of a rag tag merchant vessel working the Russian and Newfoundland convoys during the Second World War.

The heart of the book is the search for identity, as an individual, a place, also the Danish nation. It’s fairly humanist in its outook, but so long as you don’t mind that and fancy putting in the hours (nearly 700 pages), then I would definitely recommend this novel.

 

 

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