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The Old Child and the Book of Words

por Jenny Erpenbeck

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355689,215 (3.5)3
Brings together two imaginative tales in one volume.
  1. 00
    Never Let Me Go por Kazuo Ishiguro (rrmmff2000)
    rrmmff2000: Unsettling narratives and fantastic writing about teenaged girls growing up muffled from the world.
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Mostrando 5 de 5
Jenny Erpenbeck is now better known for her more recent books The End of Days and Visitation. This edition contains two of her early novellas. They share certain similarities, they are centred on girls who are never named, and concern forms of loss and identity, and both must to some extent reflect Erpenbeck's childhood in East Germany.

The Old Child (3.5/5)
This is an austere and rather unsettling tale of a girl who appears to have lost her memory and taken into a children's home, where she effectively effaces all traces of her personality while obeying rules and the commands of her classmates rigidly.

The Book of Words (4.5/5)
This is much richer, darker and ultimately disturbing. Initially it appears to be the world as seen by a young child, trying to make sense of words and idioms, but it soon becomes clear that something is wrong.

Set in an unnamed South American country that is largely based on Argentina, much of what passed for normality starts to disappear - people, shops, railways, and though the various stories the girl is told are initially taken at face value, it eventually becomes clear that the girl's privileged parents are deeply involved in the disappearances and atrocities.

This is a dark allegorical fable whose anonymised setting and use of German nursery rhymes, folk sayings and other idioms suggest that it is as much about Germany as about Latin America. As in Visitation she also uses repetition very effectively. The folk material is so untranslatable that the translator felt it necessary to add a postscript explaining the contextual background.

PS One minor irritation is the font used in this book - it uses a hyphen that is almost diagonal and there are a lot of hyphenated words, so this is rather distracting... ( )
  bodachliath | Sep 14, 2018 |
The volume contains two novellas on simialr themes of girls growing up, memory and distancing from the society they live in. Both are unsettling, but compelling.

The Old Child has a girl found and then brought up in a "home" with other children.She has no memory, even of her name, and instinctively aims not to be noticed. She is muffled or blurred from the world around her, though gradually comes to learn its ways and how to get on. Later there is illness and accelerated aging. The book won't be pinned down, but certainly one reading is various societies' (including Germany's given the author's nationality) numbness and shock from their recent histories, and a painful letting go of innocence.

The Book of Words has a girl in an unnamed country among her small circle of family and friends, though it is never quite explained where they are. Unsettling things happen to both girl and reader as language and people shift or disappear. Again, deliberately set no particular place, the reader can overlay various or no interpretations upon it. For me it hints at living in oppresive societies, but with a self-distancing and denial, and there are of course numerous times and places this applies to.

This is strong writing and translation (by Susan Bernofsky), which makes the reader sit up and listen even if they don't like or fully understand what they are hearing. ( )
  rrmmff2000 | Mar 12, 2016 |
Two totally different stories under one cover - I assume they have always been published this way, rather than this being a small compilation of the author's work. Fittingly, there are two distinct possibilities here. One is that the book is an important and profound work of massive complexity and deep meaning which I am too much of a dullard to understand. The other is that this is a work of unrelenting tedium which sets its readers to climb a sheer cliff face without providing any of the traditional handholds (physical description, dialogue) that enable them to get a grip on the plot, and which requires a translator's note just to explain where the bloody thing is set. Yes, it's one of the two but I genuinely don't know which. What I do know for sure is that I didn't enjoy it. ( )
  jayne_charles | Sep 10, 2015 |
This book is two novellas.

The Old Child - this novella engaged me most easily. This is a dark novel that has a simplicity that hides this darkness. Beautifully written, we meet a child, who is found standing alone with a bucket, and is sent to the children's home. She appears to be traumatised to the extent that she does little to socialise with her peers, obeys all the rules to the letter and literally keeps her head down to be unnoticed. Although only 107 pages Jenny Erpenbeck can pack more into those pages than other writers of less calibre. Although at first the story seems simple enough the horror of the girl's story unfolds. There are glimpses of kindness in the story, as well as horror but the girl is difficult to reach. This is a quiet and disturbing novel that deserves reading. I did however, find it very sad.

The Book of Words - I found this more difficult to understand and only after reading the translators note at the end did I really get what was going on. Again we are reading from a child's perspective and again horror is revealed as we read, although this is more in evidence from the start. From the beginning this novel of 120 or so pages is deliberately confusing and disturbing. People disappear and continue to haunt the young girl. The novel uses repetition to add to the disorientation the reader feels. There are references to fairy tales and rhymes as you would expect in a German novel. The horror is more graphically portrayed in this story and the reader has to face this head on. I was searching this novel for references of the geography of the story but didn't get from the saints name and the constant sun that we were in South America but with a community with a German heritage, this was the land where it snowed. Reading this at the end helped it to make more sense. ( )
  CarolKub | Nov 7, 2014 |
I have reviewed both books separately and they can be found at these two sites:


http://hubpages.com/t/2daae9 ( )
  MSarki | Mar 31, 2013 |
Mostrando 5 de 5
A mixed review... good writing, but hard to handle
adicionada por michalsuz | editarBlog

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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Jenny Erpenbeckautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Bernofsky, SusanTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Brings together two imaginative tales in one volume.

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