Friday, March 11, 2016

Visitation by Jennie Erpenbeck

Visitation, in telling the history of a small parcel of land near Berlin, also tells the history of twentieth century Germany. When a wealthy farmer realizes none of his four daughters will provide him with an heir, he divides part of his land, Klara's Wood, into three plots and sells them to prosperous city dwellers--a tea and coffee importer, an architect and a cloth manufacturer who happens to be Jewish. The three weekend neighbors build on and improve their properties while spending summers and weekends in the country with friends and family. Then, events beyond their control interrupt this idyllic life. Hitler comes to power. The cloth manufacturer flees the country with his wife and children but cannot persuade his relatives to follow. War rages. The Jewish relatives are deported. The Russian Army invades and occupies the summer homes. Later, Klara's Wood becomes part of East Germany and the land becomes the possession of the government. Some people escape to the West, some are captured in the attempt and some simply remain and adjust. New people rent and sublease the homes. The Berlin Wall falls and Germany is reunited. Former landowners reclaim their property, uprooting the current tenants. The twenty-first century begins.

With spare but evocative language, Jenny Erpenbeck relates civilian life in twentieth century Germany, focusing on both its congenial and menacing aspects, using small, personal events.