We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen is an spellbinding, award winning (Danske Banks Litteraturpris) fictional book which spans 100 years in the lives of the inhabitants of the small Danish coastal town Marstal. Jensen’s debut novel is already hailed as an instant classic, and rightfully so.
Laurids Madsen goes off to fight the Germans along with other men of the town of Marstal in 1848. Laurids ends up on a boat which explodes and sends him up to the heavens, only to land in safely in his heavy boots, claiming he showed St. Peter his ass. However Laurids is lost to Marstal and abandons his family.
Albert Madsen, Laurids’ son, sails in search of his missing father. Albert finds seedy company, warfare, and a shrunken head. Upon his return Marstal begins to change rapidly as the women try and reclaim the men from the ocean.
Albert mentors the small boy Knud Eric who grows up to be a sailor as well, against his mother’s wishes. Through Knud’s eyes we see World War II, how he becomes a man and, together with other Marstal natives, fights the Nazis.
Did you ever open a book, read the first paragraph and simply knew that you are in for a treat?
This was how I felt about Carsten Jensen’s We, the Drowned.
The “we” in the title is present throughout the novel as the narrator spins his tale. It is obvious that the narrator is from the Danish port town Marstal, part of the community who bears witness for a Century. We never know who the anonymous narrator is and that is part of the brilliance of this epic novel.
The characters in the book come right off the page. The whole town comes alive and the reader gets to know the main characters as well as the supporting cast. The women who go on living with their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons off for years on a voyage — maybe, but often not, to come back. We get to feel the anxieties and aspirations of the sailors, the plight of the women as well as the town’s children.