David Winters

Death Comes at the Beginning

The End of Days


Portobello Books 238pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The End of Days, the new novel by German writer and opera director Jenny Erpenbeck, starts at the turn of the 20th century, with the accidental death of an eight-month-old Jewish girl in Galicia. Traumatised by this loss, her father flees to America and her abandoned mother becomes a prostitute. At this point, Erpenbeck pauses the passage of time. What would have happened, she asks, if the child had lived? The rest of the novel is split into sections, each playing out a possible future. In one, the girl grows into a lovesick youth in Red Vienna; in another, a young wife in Stalin’s Moscow. Next she’s a middle-aged author in East Berlin; then an elderly lady in a nursing home. In each case, of course, death catches up. The teenager dies in a suicide pact; the wife falls foul of the Great Purge. A slip on the stairs claims the author; only the old lady dies a natural death. Between these episodes, Erpenbeck inserts brief intermezzi, in which she adjusts a few crucial conditions, letting her character live a bit longer. However, whatever the course of her life, ‘some death or other will eventually be her death’.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It would be nice to think that women will achieve equal pay in my lifetime, rather than to watch gloomily as stati… ,
    • In 1660, two of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant fled across the Atlantic to New England. But were… ,
    • Howard Jacobson's sixteenth novel is 'a love story of sorts, one characterised not by physical desire or even conta… ,
    • 'The sudden immersion in the new and unfamiliar can lead people to write with a rare lack of self-consciousness' P… ,
    • 'Pools bend the rules. Clothes slip off, skin glistens, consciousness heightens. A dreamlike scenario unfolds' Jam… ,
    • 'Although he surely didn’t know W H Auden’s theory that every high C proclaims human freedom and our capacity to tr… ,
    • RT : With beginning tomorrow, we've uncovered a 1997 article from the archive reviewing 'Golf Dream… ,