We, The Drowned, By Carsten Jensen (trs Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder)

Danish drama on the high seas
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The Independent Culture

Carsten Jensen's novel was a great critical and commercial success in his native Denmark, and it is not difficult to see why. Drawing on the legends of his hometown, the historic port of Marstal, and reconstructing the adventures of grizzled naval captains and wide-eyed deckhands through the generations, he has crafted a quite superb maritime saga.

Beginning in 1848 with the story of the formidable sailor Laurids Madsen, who mysteriously disappeared, and concluding with an account of a Danish crew navigating the horrors of the Second World War, this is a seafaring epic worthy of comparison with the classics. Jensen's rambunctious, digressive tone recalls Melville's Moby-Dick; his descriptions of heaving waves and swollen sails evoke Conrad's The Shadow Line; his eye for macabre imagery and taste for black humour bring to mind Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym.

Unlike those writers, however, Jensen is not so taken with the romance of the ocean that he neglects those who were left behind. Interspersed with the shipboard episodes are quietly reflective chapters that pay tribute to the wives and mothers whose resourcefulness "held everything together while our fathers were away at sea".

Beautifully translated and packed with enough drama, suspense and philosophical speculation for myriad lesser novels, We, The Drowned is bold, brilliant, unmissable stuff.

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