Jenny Erpenbeck’s much anticipated new novel Kairos is a complicated love story set amidst swirling, cataclysmic events as the GDR collapses and an old world evaporates
Jenny Erpenbeck (the author of Go, Went, Gone and Visitation) is an epic storyteller and arguably the most powerful voice in contemporary German literature. Erpenbeck’s new novel Kairos—an unforgettably compelling masterpiece—tells the story of the romance begun in East Berlin at the end of the 1980s when nineteen-year-old Katharina meets by chance a married writer in his fifties named Hans. Their passionate yet difficult long-running affair takes place against the background of the declining GDR, through the upheavals wrought by its dissolution in 1989 and then what comes after. In her unmistakable style and with enormous sweep, Erpenbeck describes the path of two lovers, as Katharina grows up and tries to come to terms with a not always ideal romance, even as a whole world with its own ideology disappears. As the Times Literary Supplement writes: “The weight of history, the particular experiences of East and West, and the ways in which cultural and subjective memory shape individual identity has always been present in Erpenbeck’s work. She knows that no one is all bad, no state all rotten, and she masterfully captures the existential bewilderment of this period between states and ideologies.”
In the opinion of her superbly gifted translator Michael Hofmann, Kairos is the great post-Unification novel. And, as The New Republic has commented on his work as a translator: “Hofmann’s translation is invaluable—it achieves what translations are supposedly unable to do: it is at once ‘loyal’ and ‘beautiful.’”
The award-winning translator Michael Hofmann has translated works by Gert Hofmann, Franz Kafka, Heinrich von Kleist, and Joseph Roth for New Directions.
— Claire Messud - The New York Times
The brutality of her subjects, combined with the fierce intelligence and tenderness at work behind her restrained, unvarnished prose is overwhelming.
— Nicole Krauss
Erpenbeck’s handling of characters caught within the mesh (and mess) of history is superb. Threats loom over their love and over their country. Hans is jealous, weak-willed, vindictive, Katharina self-abasing. At heart the book is about cruelty more than passion, about secrets, betrayal, and loss
— Kirkus Reviews
In Erpenbeck, Germany has a rare national writer whose portrayals of a ruptured country and century are a reminder that novelists can treat history in ways that neither historians nor politicians ever could, cutting through dogma, fracturing time, preserving rubble.
— Gal Beckerman - The Atlantic
With Kairos, Erpenbeck proves the impossibility, irresponsibility even, of an easy binary and reminds us that the only thing we can be certain of is an ending that will bring along change.
— Amber Ruth Paulen - Full Stop
Erpenbeck is among the most sophisticated and powerful novelists we have. Clinging to the undercarriage of her sentences, like fugitives, are intimations of Germany’s politics, history and cultural memory. It’s no surprise that she is already bruited as a future Nobelist....I don’t generally read the books I review twice, but this one I did.
— Dwight Garner - The New York Times