The plot: Spanning from 1848 to World War II, three generations of sailors leave the small Danish town of Marstal and sail the world. They find adventure, opportunity wealth, love and death.
The scope of this novel is huge, it's hard to summarise it neatly without turning this post into an essay. Jensen has created a contemporary Odyssey, as both the Homer epic and We, the Drowned recount seafaring adventures. The story includes descriptions ship hierarchy, hardships and mutiny, tales of exotic ports, cannibals and foreign women. Those left behind also have a voice, like Odysseus' faithful Penelope, the women of Marstal wait and morn for their sons and husbands. The 'we' that narrates the novel, is the omniscient voice of the downed, lost souls that record the history, present and future of the town, similar to a Greek chorus.
|Cutty Sark- London|
I've posted a fair few quotes from the novel recently, which is evidence of how well written I think the book is. The translators Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder have done a really good job. I've read a lot of books about war, and they have sort of lost their power to shock. However, I had a renewed sense of horror when I read the passages about the shipping coveys during the Second World War.
Each generation from Marstal who goes to sea has a different experience. The sailors begin on huge ships with sails and masts and by the end of the novel steam powered warships and u-boats rule the waves. I had very limited knowledge about sailing and maritime history, and I really enjoyed the insight this novel gave me. Though the type of ship evolves through the novel, common themes remain, the sea is perilous but the life of a sailor offers adventure and opportunity.