Visitation is the first book by Jenny Erpenbeck I’ve read, and it will likely be her last as well. Despite realizing that I could not get along (with scarce exceptions) with authors who had an experimental style for a long time, I stubbornly continued to read. After that, I decided not to read. Maybe in the future, I can get along with writers who have an unusual style, and I can read them with pleasure. But for now, I am determined not to torture myself.
Visitation tells the story of a house in Germany and actually the story of a whole era and people through this house. We read about wars, losses, changed orders, the division and reunification of the country throughout separate stories. However, the author manages to tell what was lost in more delicate details instead of giving place to the heartbreaking war scenes.
Among these stories, we read the story of The Gardener. We also get news about the garden of the house and the grove and lake around it from him. The author talks about flowers and trees with all the details in the chapters about The Gardener. We listen to the gardener’s everyday life, season by season. After a while, the reader understands the reason for The Gardener episodes, which are between the sections telling the story of Germany. Although the house and its inhabitants change, nature and indeed the world as we know it never changes. Flowers bloom again every spring, storms break the branches of trees every winter.
On the other hand, the gardener remains the only constant in the ever-changing story. As a reader, I have to say that I took shelter in the gardener for a long time. An unchanging character in such a novel gave me the feeling of a safe harbour.
Since I didn’t spend time with any character other than the character of Gardener in Visitation, I felt equally distant from all of them. I think this was something the author specifically wanted to do; she explains very clearly in short chapters that everything in this world is temporary and that our lives are actually just a moment. And it shows how war has suddenly turned our short lives into one hell.
Although Visitation is not a book that I love to read just because of its style, it made me think how it would be different from millions of war books if it were not written in this style. I recommend Visitation, especially if you are looking for novels about the Second World War or reading books with a different style.
Visitation: By the side of a lake in Brandenburg, a young architect builds the house of his dreams – a summerhouse with wrought-iron balconies, stained-glass windows the colour of jewels, and a bedroom with a hidden closet, all set within a beautiful garden.
But the land on which he builds has a dark history of violence that began with the drowning of a young woman in the grip of madness and that grows darker still over the course of the century: the Jewish neighbours disappear one by one; the Red Army requisitions the house, burning the furniture and trampling the garden; a young East German attempts to swim his way to freedom in the West; a couple return from brutal exile in Siberia and leave the house to their granddaughter, who is forced to relinquish her claim upon it and sell to new owners intent upon demolition.
Reaching far into the past, and recovering what was lost and what was buried, Jenny Erpenbeck tells a story both beautiful and brutal, about the things that haunt a home in Visitation.
Born in East Berlin, Erpenbeck is the daughter of the physicist, philosopher and writer John Erpenbeck and the Arabic translator Doris Kilias. Her grandparents are the authors Fritz Erpenbeck and Hedda Zinner. In Berlin she attended an Advanced High School, where she graduated in 1985. She then completed a two-year apprenticeship as a bookbinder before working at several theaters as props and wardrobe supervisor.
From 1988 to 1990 Erpenbeck studied theatre at the Humboldt University of Berlin. In 1990 she changed her studies to Music Theater Director (studying with, among others, Ruth Berghaus, Heiner Müller and Peter Konwitschny) at the Hanns Eisler Music Conservatory.
After the successful completion of her studies in 1994, with a production of Béla Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle in her parish church and in the Kunsthaus Tacheles, she spent some time at first as an assistant director at the opera house in Graz, where in 1997 she did her own productions of Schoenberg’s Erwartung, Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and a world premiere of her own piece Cats Have Seven Lives. As a freelance director, she directed in 1998 different opera houses in Germany and Austria, including Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in Aachen, Acis and Galatea at the Berlin State Opera and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Zaide in Nuremberg/Erlangen.
In the 1990s Erpenbeck started a writing career in addition to her directing. She is author of narrative prose and plays: her debut novella in 1999, Geschichte vom alten Kind (The Old Child); in 2001, her collection of stories Tand (Trinkets); in 2004, the novella Wörterbuch (The Book of Words); and in 2008, the novel Heimsuchung (Visitation). In 2007, Erpenbeck took over a biweekly column by Nicole Krauss in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In 2015 the English translation of her novel Aller Tage Abend (The End of Days) won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Erpenbeck’s works have been translated into Danish, English, French, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, Swedish, Slovene, Spanish, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Arabic, Estonian and Finnish. Erpenbeck lives in Berlin with her husband, conductor Wolfgang Bozic, and her son.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: