We, the Drowned

Written by Carsten Jensen
Review by Chiara Prezzavento

In 1848, war erupts in the Danish region of Schleswig-Holstein, and the coastal town of Marstal forms a land guard to do its part. As the town goes through eager preparations, false alarms, and a rude awakening to the realities of war, we are first introduced to Jensen’s unusual choice of narrating voice: first person, plural. We tell the story of Marstal and its people between 1848 and WWII, as sailors, fishermen, and their women are born, live, love, go to sea, go to war, and sometimes come back. We recount how ships and boats are built, cross the sea, are sunk or wrecked, and how, as sailing is abandoned in favour of steam, traditions are formed, followed, and lost. And We are the Marstal men, the ones who struggle and are lost, killed in war, dead at sea, drowned in the failure of their dreams, and the inexorable change of their world. We will vanish, together with the sense of community, as the maritime fortunes of Marstal change and decline. And yet, We will not completely desert the ones left behind. We, The Drowned is a huge saga, poignant, bitterly compassionate, cruel, and occasionally humorous, told in a powerful, compelling voice. Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder’s translation renders the writing as an elegant blend of everyday detail, a potent, almost myth-like quality, and vivid descriptions of northern lights, and rough seas. Recommended.