The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
People interested in a deep look into just a few lives – their potential, their reality, their what-could-have-beens. People who like novels that aren’t conventional but aren’t totally out there.
In a nutshell:
Five generations of one family experience the 19th century, stopping and restarting along the way.
“She’d been able to remake her thinking from scratch, but not her family history.”
“Before striding off on a new path, must one not have acquired a profound understanding of what was wrong with the old one?”
“At many points during her life she had done something for the last time without knowing it. Did that mean that death was not a moment but a front, one that was as long as life?”
Why I chose it:
This was a birthday gift from my partner.
This review will contain some mild spoilers for the first part o the book.
The premise of this book is what a life might be like should certain events not have happened. I thought it might be a reset at birth each time, but no. The first section looks at the lives of the characters if the daughter (no one has names) dies around eight months. Everyone is destroyed in different ways – the father makes a decision that I find shocking and fascinated; the mother ends up completely shutting down.
In the intermission, we look at what would have happened if, when the baby wasn’t breathing, someone had done something to startle the baby back to life, and follows the family until the baby is a young woman. They all are experiencing pain due to WWI and famine, and there is now a second, younger daughter. The main daughter is traumatized and does not want to live, and, this story ends with her death at 19.
It goes on for there, with five total lives / continuations of life, following the great grandmother, grandmother, mother, daughter, and son. No one has names. No one has an easy life.
It’s an interesting idea, seeing how something going a little different might alter the course of one’s life but also the lives of everyone around one. It’s been done so many different ways, but this way feels … dark but also refreshing. It is a book that both feels totally originally and also extremely familiar.
Something that has struck me throughout the book is just the heaviness of everyone’s lives, and the fact that we don’t know what other people are going through. In this book, the grandmother of the daughter carries a secret with her that affects both her and her daughter. The daughter gathers her own secrets that impact her son. There is generational trauma, and things these family members experience that no one else in their family knows, let alone understands. There’s so much pain held inside. How many of the people we know well, or just encounter on a daily basis, are holding onto a pain we’ll never know about?
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a friend.