we-the-drownedThis is the story of Marstal, a tiny town on the island of Ærø in the Danish archipelago, between 1848 to 1945. It’s the story of its sailors, the women who wait their return and the children who grown up with intermittent dads.

Marstal really exists and the author was inspired by many of the tales its people had to tell, the type of stories that are passed down from father to son until they become the stuff of legend. This is probably why there’s something mythical in the way We, the Drowned is told.

The story begins with Laurids Madsen, who went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots, then there’s Albert who journeyed to the far side of the world looking for his father and came back with the shrunken head of James Cook. Also, there’s the time when a swarm of butterflies was blown across the ocean and clung to a ship, and the miraculous story of the woman who was giving birth on a ship when it was hit by German bombers.

Such great stories, told so vividly. And I loved the balance between darkness and light, between stories that broke my heart (the juggler chef, Kato… sniff) and those that make my day for their joy.

It’s a character-driven book and, fittingly, the sea is one of the most dominant. It’s otherworldly, worthy of a good fantasy novel – something I can easily recognized, coming from a country of seafarers. My respect to Jensen: it takes a good writer to capture the mix of fear and attraction while still amusing and educating the reader.

It’s not a perfect book: its female characters are not as interesting as the males ones, even though there was great potential (for those who’ve read it, wouldn’t you like to know more about the painter’s widow, Sophie’s adventures as a sailor or Klara’s life during the German occupation?). Also, pet hate peeve: Portugal is NOT Spain. The town of Setúbal (Mr. Jensen, as a Dane you should have an appreciation for accents) does NOT speak Spanish. *sigh*

All the same, a great start of the year and a reminder of the rewards of reading in translation. Also, look at the pretty cover!


Other thoughts: Stuck in a Book, Man of La Book, Roxploration, The Book Coop (yours?)