by Jenny Erpenbeck
In its original German Visitation is titled Heimsuchung,
which means something like "home search" or "looking for home." The
title is apt; Visitation focuses on the occupants of an idyllic parcel of land on a
lake in Brandenburg, outside Berlin, over the course of a century, from
the Bismarck era to the post-Reunification 1990s.
From that description you might think you already know the story, but you would be only half right. Except briefly, the wars and horrors of the 20th century appear only in the distance, like heat lightning on an ominously calm summer's evening.
Reading Visitation is like going for a walk with a nature buff who can't help pointing out features you never would notice otherwise: the gently rolling hills left by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age, the sandstone outcropping that once was the floor of some ancient sea, the ferns older than dinosaurs. But here the features are human: the villagers, the family scattered and driven into exile, the quarter-Jewish architect, the communist artist, the yuppies, and the gardener—always the gardener from one generation to the next.
Erpenbeck writes beautifully; even in translation her prose dazzles. Her eye for telling details, for images that capture a whole story at a glance, is amazing. Read Visitation, then read it again. It's that good.
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Review by Don Beistle