cover image Visitation


Jenny Erpenbeck, trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky, New Directions, $14.95 paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1835-1

In this original and evocative novel, Erpenbeck (The Book of Words) charts the history of a property in the Brandenburg hills through snippets—temporarily opened windows offering brief, tantalizing glimpses before slamming shut. There is a Jewish girl murdered during the Holocaust; a disillusioned Communist activist who leaves Nazi Germany and returns after WWII; an architect who collaborated with Albert Speers on the Germania Project; two hard-partying structural engineering students who try to escape to the West, and so on. Amid all these protagonists, there is the recurring figure of "The Gardener," who goes about the bucolic business of maintaining the property with unwavering application. Erpenbeck's elliptical style, rife with naturalistic descriptions of landscape and geology, is better at describing the physical world than the emotional life of her characters, but in so doing, she hammers home her basic point—that people are part of the same continuum as the trees and glaciers that come and go over eons, and that "eternal life already exists during a human lifetime." (Sept.)