Not a Novel

A Memoir in Pieces


Jenny Erpenbeck (Author), Kurt Beals (Translator)

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A collection of highly personal and poetic essays about life, literature, and politics by the renowned German writer, Jenny Erpenbeck

Jenny Erpenbeck’s highly acclaimed novel Go, Went, Gone was a New York Times notable book and launched one of Germany’s most admired writers into the American spotlight. In the New Yorker, James Wood wrote: “When Erpenbeck wins the Nobel Prize in a few years, I suspect that this novel will be cited.”
        On the heels of this literary breakthrough comes  , a book of personal, profound, often humorous meditations and reflections. Erpenbeck writes, “With this collection of texts, I am looking back for the first time at many years of my life, at the thoughts that filled my life from day to day.”
        Starting with her childhood days in East Berlin (“I start with my life as a schoolgirl … my own conscious life begins at the same time as the socialist life of Leipziger Strasse”), Not a Novel provides a glimpse of growing up in the GDR and of what it was like to be twenty-two when the wall collapsed; it takes us through Erpenbeck’s early adult years, working in a bakery after immersing herself in the worlds of music, theater, and opera, and ultimately discovering her path as a writer.
        There are lively essays about her literary influences (Thomas Bernhard, the Brothers Grimm, Kafka, and Thomas Mann), unforgettable reflections on the forces at work in her novels (including history, silence, and time), and scathing commentaries on the dire situation of America and Europe today. “Why do we still hear laments for the Germans who died attempting to flee over the wall, but almost none for the countless refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years, turning the sea into a giant grave?”
        With deep insight and warm intelligence, Jenny Erpenbeck provides us with a collection of unforgettable essays that take us into the heart and mind of “one of the finest and most exciting writers alive” (Michel Faber).


"An ideal introduction to the life and work of an exceptional artist." — Kirkus

"This collection of essays, memoirs and critical pieces forms an intellectual biography of Europe’s most history-obsessed writer. Beginning with her childhood in East Berlin in the early ‘60s and ‘70s, the book moves in concentric circles, from the intimate and understatedly moving to the moment History collides with her life. A powerful voice singing the past into the present’s melody." — John Freeman, Lithub

"Fearless, playful, incisive. Erpenbeck is unique" — Rachel Seiffert

"These essays, lectures and musings from the ever-elegant German writer Jenny Erpenbeck cover life, art and society. Jumbled together are thoughts on language, history and freedom, a moving piece – in the shape of an inventory – on her mother’s death, and finally, on Germany’s treatment of refugees. Clear-eyed and perceptive, Erpenbeck’s writing packs an emotive punch." — Tatler

"As this collection makes clear, hers is a life (and writing-life) well worth examining." — The Complete Review

"Wonderful, elegant, and exhilarating—ferocious as well as virtuosic." — Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books

"The impact is of a master at work—Erpenbeck ought to be considered for the Nobel." — John Domini, The Washington Post

"One of the pleasures of reading Not a Novel is just that—it’s not a novel. Each piece stands on its own and is dense and lucid, demanding pause and reflection....Her words stay with you." — World Literature Today

"Erpenbeck’s writing is a lure that leads us—off-center as into a vortex—to the most haunted and haunting territory." — Anne Michaels

"The most profound, intelligent, humane, and important writer of our times. Forget the nombrilistes writing about themselves who have taken up so much of the conversational space. Jenny Erpenbeck is where it is all happening. She watches, notes, records, and interprets the world, not just herself in it. This is real literature: alive, vital, necessary, witty, beautiful, transformative." — Neel Mukherjee

"Her restrained, unvarnished prose is overwhelming." — Nicole Krauss

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