Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck | New Directions

Jenny Erpenbeck

Beautifully haunting.

Interview Magazine

New York Times Notable Book 2018; Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2018

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck | New Directions

Fiction by Jenny Erpenbeck

Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky

Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, “one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation” (The Millions). The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired classics professor who lives in Berlin. His wife has died, and he lives a routine existence until one day he spies some African refugees staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz. Curiosity turns into compassion and an inner transformation as he visits their shelter, interviews them, and becomes embroiled in their harrowing fates. Go, Went, Gone is a scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis, but also a touching portrait of a man who finds he has more in common with the Africans than he realizes. Exquisitely translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses one of the most pivotal issues of our time, facing it head-on in a voice that is both nostalgic and frightening.

Winner of the MLA Lois Roth Award for Translation.

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Portrait of Jenny Erpenbeck

Jenny Erpenbeck

German writer and former opera director

Beautifully haunting.

Interview Magazine

A stunning novel about a retired classics professor who slowly becomes aware and involved in the plight of refugees from Africa camping out in a square in Berlin….lyrical, absorbing, so accurate as to the ways we resist engagement and then are pulled in.

The New York Times

The plight of asylum seekers as told through a retired university professor…Very moving.

Carol Morely, Guardian 2018 Best Summer Books

Brilliantly understated … Erpenbeck’s economical prose lends existential significance to the most commonplace conversations, defined less by what they include than by what they omit.

Foreign Affairs

A highly sophisticated work.

The Spectator

This timely novel brings together a retired classics professor in Berlin and a group of African refugees. The risk of didacticism is high, but the book’s rigor and crystalline insights pay off, aesthetically and morally.

The New York Times

A retired widower and classics professor takes an interest in African migrants staging a hunger strike in Berlin and finds himself tumbling into a world of harrowing stories and men who share a common sense of loss.

Boston Globe

Calls to mind J.M. Coetzee, whose flat, affectless prose wrests coherence from immense social turmoil. By making the predicament of the refugee banal and quotidian, Erpenbeck helps it become visible.

The Wall Street Journal

The best novel to date about the migration refugee crisis, German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone (New Directions) felt both urgent and tender, taking on depicting Europe on the brink of its next profound change—as seen through the eyes of a professor from Berlin’s former East, a man who knows something of what it means to lose one’s place in the world.

Megan O'Grady, Vogue

Acclaimed German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck has gone further than most in examining the ephemeral nature of human life. A heart-rending plea for universal tolerance and respect.

The Big Issue

The conviction that doing nothing, staying out of it, is not an option is an urgent guiding thought in Go, Went Gone. Jenny Erpenbeck shows us that we are involved already, whether we want to be or not.


Among the Go, Went, Gone’s many virtues is that it is not only alive to the suffering of people who are very different from us but alive to the false consolations of telling ‘moving’ stories about people who are very different from us….Magnificent.

James Wood, The New Yorker

An insightful call to conscience and an undeniable argument for our common humanity.

Publishers Weekly

Erpenbeck bluntly reminds readers what is at stake for Germany and, by extension, the world. A timely, informed, and moving novel of political fury.


A lyrical urgent response to a history that is still unfolding.

Kirkus (starred)

Erpenbeck is scathing about the absurdities of a nightmarish bureaucracy that appears to deliberately wrongfoot refugees. Deceptively unhurried, yet undeniably urgent, this is Erpenbeck’s most significant work to date.

Financial Times

This brilliantly understated novel traces with uncommon delicacy and depth the interior transformation of a retired German classicist named Richard. Erpenbeck possesses an uncanny ability to portray the mundane interactions and routines that compose everyday life, which she elevates into an intimately moving meditation on one of the great issues of our times. Her economical prose lends existential significance to the most commonplace conversations, defined less by what they include than by what they omit.

Foreign Affairs