Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone is the gift that keeps on giving. I still haven’t had a chance to read the book, but the criticism it has prompted is far and away the best and most informed of any I’ve read in 2017. Here, for instance, is Franziska Lamprecht in Full Stop:
Jenny Erpenbeck’s book talks a lot about bodies, bodies with black skin and bodies with white skin, bodies with visible and invisible scars, bodies with a place to be and bodies in a vacuum, bodies with supposedly little time left and bodies with supposedly too much time, bodies in limbo outside of time, bodies with a history and bodies without a future. How the being of those bodies is shaped by something as abstract as “the law,” specifically the law that regards individuals fleeing brutal wars in Libya, Sudan, Niger, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, and Burkina Faso is what Richard, the protagonist of this fictional story based on real events, tries to understand. …
Richard understands: Dublin II allows all the European countries without a Mediterranean coastline to purchase the right not to have to listen to the stories of arriving refugees. In other words, so-called “asylum fraud” means one must tell a true story in a country where no one’s legally obligated to listen, much less do anything in response. And the soon-to-be-implemented fingerprint scanning system, he reads, will preclude all misunderstandings as to whether an individual belongs to a group that must be listened to or not.
And in the latest issue of The Quarterly Conversation, Angela Woodward has a long, detailed consideration of Go, Went, Gone in the context of Erpenbeck’s earlier novels. It’s a brilliant piece of comparative analysis that seems comfortable with reaching an otherwise uncomfortable, ambivalent conclusion.
Related by subject: Bailey Trela’s review of Elfriede Jelinek’s Charges, published earlier this year in the soon-to-close Open Letters Monthly. The book was also inspired by the way the European authorities have handled the refugee crisis, and the review is as thorough and thoughtful as anything written about Go, Went, Gone.