Friday, February 27, 2015

The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck

The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck is a very short book that bears reading twice. A second reading reveals many subtle clues missed during the first. The story takes place in an unnamed South American country where a young girl is raised by loving parents in a well-to-do household. She is surrounded by servants and given the many advantages of a privileged life. An observant and thoughtful girl, she often ponders the meaning of words and events she cannot fully comprehend. Her parents exert great effort to shelter her but they cannot hide from her the dangers of living in a totalitarian country. Shops she frequents close and people she knows disappear. Although she hears reports of and even witnesses acts of outright violence, for the most part, she accepts her parents’ explanations of these events as vacations, illnesses and lovers’ quarrels. Eventually, the violence grows too pervasive to ignore. She and her family must face the truth about their country and its government. Author Jenny Erpenbeck was born and raised in East Germany and, while it was not a South American country, it was a true totalitarian state. Therefore, she knows whereof she writes.