Will You Come to My Funeral? A Reading with Jenny Erpenbeck
The Barnard Creative Writing program presents one of contemporary literature’s most innovative novelists, Jenny Erpenbeck. Risky, cool, and spectral, her books investigate European history by transforming narrative into strange, glass-like fragments. In one novel, the narrator is a house. In another, the unnamed female protagonist dies every chapter. Her new novel Kairos follows a nineteen-year-old woman whose destructive romance is set against the backdrop of a decaying East Germany. As novelist Anne Michaels writes, “Jenny Erpenbeck’s writing is a lure that leads us—off-center, as one travels into a vortex—into the most haunted and haunting territory.” In conversation with Associate Director of Creative Writing, Ken Chen. Reserve a seat on Eventbrite here.
Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel Kairos, translated by Michael Hofmann, tells the story of a romance between nineteen-year-old Katharina and a married writer in his fifties–a destructive romance whose subtext is the collapse of East Germany. The book “masterfully captures the existential bewilderment of this period between states and ideologies” (TLS). Her last novel, Go, Went, Gone, followed a retired Classics professor who sees African refugees undergoing a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz; of this novel, James Wood wrote in the New Yorker, “When Erpenbeck wins the Nobel Prize in a few years, I suspect that this novel will be cited.”
Other books explore the vexed history of twentieth century Germany through narratives both spare and unexpected. In The End of Days, the unnamed female protagonist dies at the end of each of the five parts, for example in the Hapsburg Empire, World War I, and a Russian labor camp. In Visitation, Erpenbeck writes the novel from the point of view of a German house, experiencing feudalism and world wars. "Erpenbeck is a virtuoso whose eye for detail depends entirely on a refusal to write what’s easy or straightforward,” writes Lauren LeBlanc in The Observer. “It’s a perspective conditioned by losing one identity and watching an entire country disappear in the name of freedom."
Photo credit: Wolfgang Bozic