Jenny Erpenbeck writes historical fiction but not in the way that traditionalists will expect.
The End of Days, which in its brilliant translation by Susan Bernofsky has won this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, tells one woman’s story of survival and reinvention across a Europe wracked by war, revolution and repression, from the Habsburg Empire in the 1900s to eastern Germany after the Wall’s fall.
This is no plodding, conventional saga, though, but a dazzling succession of make-or-break scenes. Each section turns on a crisis that could have ended the heroine’s progress for good. Alternative futures build into a chronicle of chance and change, personal and historical, lit by flashes of prose lightning. We sense world-shaking events on the pulse of a private life as she dodges the bullet of fate only to fall into yet another existential challenge. Poetic, gripping, visionary, this is a novel that will surely stand the test of time.Reuse content