You are here

Go, Went, Gone interview

Go, Went, Gone interview

­Jenny Erpenbeck talks about her novel Go, Went, Gone, which she describes as “a book about transition and loss”, and translator Susan Bernofsky explains why translating the voices of characters from very different backgrounds was slightly tricky.  

This is part of our series of Man Booker International Prize 2018 longlist interviews.  

Jenny Erpenbeck, author of Go, Went, Gone

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s a great honour to be on this list – and I’m very, very happy.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel Go, Went, Gone?

It’s a book about transition and loss – and about an encounter between two parallel worlds that share the same present. Richard, a widowed and recently retired classics professor, befriends a group of African refugees in the course of his research about time and finitude. They’re stranded in Berlin after a harrowing odyssey, not having permission to work in Germany. So they’re caught in a kind of limbo.

This is your first full length novel which solely focuses on male protagonists, was this a conscious decision or was it a natural choice for the story you wanted to tell?

The absence of women in the lives of the male refugees is a fact. But something that’s missing is of no less weight than the things that exist. A missing hope in the very centre of a human being’s life bears the potential of self-destruction and destruction.


Susan Bernofsky, translator of Go, Went, Gone   

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s such an honour to see my work on such an illustrious longlist. I’m thrilled!

What did you most like about translating Go, Went, Gone   

A lot of the time I spent working on this book was trying to get the tone right in English. Erpenbeck writes powerfully lyrical sentences that give a strong impression of forward motion despite their grammatical complexity. I wanted the prose in English to sound like a modern fairytale full of gritty realism.

There are characters of multiple nationalities in Go, Went, Gone, with the voices of the German protagonist and the African refugees all represented. Did this pose any difficulties during translation?

One tricky thing about translating this book into English was that the characters who are refugees are occasionally quoted in English in the original—a sometimes idiosyncratic English—while most of their speech is represented in elegant literary German. I tried to translate in such a way that all these snippets of dialogue would be plausible as the thoughts and speech of the same figures.