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Who are we when we are born? Who are we when the hour of our death comes? What changes? What remains? By tracing the five possible lives lived and the five deaths of one woman whose life spans, or fails to span, the twentieth century, the magical, magisterial author of Visitation exposes the machinations of what we call ‘fate’ – actually inexplicable and undetermined, an interplay of culture and history, of family and personal entanglements.
The protagonist never grows up, suffocates in her cradle. Or perhaps not? Dies as a lover. Or doesn’t after all. Dies betrayed. Highly honoured. Or forgotten by everyone. Or perhaps not? Erpenbeck takes us on a journey through the many lives that could be contained in one single life – starting off in a small Galician town in about 1900 and going to Vienna and Stalin’s Moscow before ending up in present-day Berlin. She interrogates the impact of the political on the personal, and as she tackles this theme she draws on a uniquely German narrative impetus: the ongoing need to reckon with its past and its place in recent history.
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