The subject matter of We, The Drowned is not pretty and is often brutal. Marstal is a town of sailors with a famous nautical college – any citizen who is not at sea can easily feel bitter. Such is school master Isager, a sadistic sad man who after a day of physically and mentally punishing the kids has to go home so his “fat and psychopathic [wife] would thrash [him].” (Forgive me Roger Waters).
We, The Drowned makes a vivid and lucid point about how a commercially successful society (the town of Marstal) can live in peaceful avoidance of the fact that their prosperity comes at the expense and misery of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.
The political and social commentary along with an ambitious story and vivid characters is a winning combination. The character of Albert Madsen, who returns from a voyage to find his missing father serves as the book’s, and the town’s, moral center. Albert mentors the young Knud Erik, the hero of the second half of the book.
Much like life this is not a tidy book. The colorful stories which the author claims have a grain of truth in many of them, turn from tidy to wild with an uplifting and sobering message at the end. Much of We, The Drowned explores the sense of community and the morality of a small town vs. the closed universe, of a ship vs. religion.
All different, but also have many things in common.
This book is an adventure story, romance, coming of age story, a tale of war, of love and loss rolled into one. The novel is brilliant, funny, and heartwarming, told through fabulous writing which begs to be savored. The closing paragraphs are what tie the book together and are a masterpiece all by themselves.
Great job by translators Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder – one of the best translated books I’ve ever read.
Bottom line: I cannot say enough good things about this book.