Excerpt from Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Go, Went, Gone

by Jenny Erpenbeck

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck X
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
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    Sep 2017, 320 pages

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Chris Fredrick

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Go, Went, Gone: Excerpt

The ghosts, Karon says, only come as far as the Italian coast. They don't cross over into Europe. Immediately after his arrival in Lampedusa, he had three more dreams and he hasn't had a single one since. The ghosts also demand their tribute on the crossing, he says. For this reason, it makes no sense to stop a person who loses his mind during the crossing and jumps into the water. One single time, Karon says, a miracle occurred. A man had fallen from the boat into the water, and the captain didn't want to lose time turning the boat around, but he at least turned off the motor for a minute. A few men called out the man's name, all of them looked to see whether he might still be keeping his head above water somewhere, but you couldn't see him anywhere. Then everything became quiet for a moment. The sea grew calm and looked as smooth as a mirror, and suddenly two dolphins came swimming up close together, and between them they were carrying the unconscious man and brought him back to the boat so that the other passengers could lift him up, and then the man regained consciousness. A miracle. Not long afterward, the motor suddenly stopped working. It turned out that the survivor was the only one who knew about boats and was able to repair the motor. Otherwise all of us would have died, Karon says.


Karon suddenly appeared from nowhere in a heavy snowstorm right in front of Richard's study window, and a moment later he'd knocked on the terrace door. Now the two of them are sitting drinking hot lemon in water at the living room table.

Richard says: I almost forgot—your friend sent me a picture of your family.

Earlier the pictures of the property and the deed of sale had arrived in Richard's phone, and yesterday he received a picture of Karon's mother, his two younger brothers, and his half-grown sister. The two women are wearing brightly colored dresses, in the mother's case a dark purple one that reaches to the ground; she looks solemn and thin. The sister isn't looking at the camera—out of shame? Or pride? What a sister, Richard thinks.

What's her name? he asks, pointing at the young woman.

Sala' Matu', says Karon.

Compared to the two women, Karon's brothers, standing between them, make a shabby impression. They're wearing t-shirts and pants with holes in them. The older brother's left shoulder is higher than his right, he looks misshapen. The younger boy's t-shirt says Kalahari, and since the Kalahari Desert is about as far away from where Karon's family lives as Barcelona is from Minsk, Richard deems it unlikely that the t-shirt made its way into Karon's brother's possession by crossing the African continent. Rather, he assumes, it must have come from some charity collection bin and taken a detour, say, by way of Hannover, Freiburg, or Berlin-Charlottenburg. Karon's mother and his three siblings are standing beneath the eaves of a cinderblock house that has two doors hanging crooked on their hinges and no windows. Karon sits in the living room on the sofa, holding Richard's phone in his hand, and for a long, long time looks at the photo, while outside the snowflakes fall. In those globes you have to shake to produce a snowstorm, it's exactly the opposite, Richard thinks, with winter beneath the bell jar. See that post there in the picture, says Karon, pointing at one of the posts propping up the eaves of the house. I repaired it, I still remember. It's true, Richard sees it too—there's a spot where the post was broken and has been stabilized with a splint. It's not much of a job as repairs go, but it was completed in a time that remains the present for Karon's family and only for him has become inaccessible. Karon points to the high threshold under the eaves: In the rainy season, there's so much water, that's why the houses are raised up. The house has three rooms, but in the rainy season only one of them is habitable, the other two don't have a roof, so they get flooded ... My father didn't manage to finish building the house before he died. How were houses made before? They were made of mud. But when the mud got cracks in it, snakes came in, and that's dangerous. And when you filled in the cracks with more mud, it didn't hold for long. The roofs used to be made of reeds or palm fronds, but all it took was for someone to hold a match to them and the whole house would burn down.

Excerpted from Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Erpenbeck. Excerpted by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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