Just finished my third book in my attempt to read ten new books this year. “We, the Drowned” by Carsten Jensen is a historical fiction following the Danish port town of Marstal from the mid-nineteenth century through WWII. It caught my interest one day whilst wandering around Barnes & Nobles and the aclaim of being an “International Bestseller” clinched the deal. With that said, I still wasn’t expecting a thrilling read, but “We, the Drowned” turned out to be singularily compelling.
I am by no means a sailor, I have no deeply rooted desire for intercontinental ocean travel, I didn’t even read a lot of pirate novels in my youth, yet this book-dominated by the sea-was satisfyingly relatable and engaging. It isn’t a happy book, it isn’t sad either; it is relentless. There are no cut and dried heros or bad guys, seemingly no structured build of anticipation, climax, and resolution, the stories march sequentially forward while the characters meander in and out of them wrestling with internal philosophies and external hardship with the same dogged persistence.
There was very little prosey commentary on the ocean itself-which I appreciated-and yet the stark tragedies discussed were also not uneccessarily exploited with verbage designed to shock the senses. I grow tired of books that feel the need to be “gritty” and “real” by going into explicit detail about every horrifying reality they can cram into a plotline, because that is just as gross of a misrepresentation of reality as is pretending human babies are delivered at doorsteps by storks. There are horrifying events described in the book and Jensen confronts them head on, but he employs a masterful sense of balance to the description that packs a deeper punch then if he were to wax sensationalist.
I enjoyed this book very much, it far exceeded my initial expectations (I had resigned myself to the idea of skimming paragraphs filled with boring nautical details I would be ill equiped to understand-thankfully this was not the case), I would recommend this book for anyone interested in a thought provoking read.