Feature

Novel of the week: We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

Jensen's 700-page novel follows four generations of sailors from one Danish village, carrying readers from an 1848 naval battle through the end of World War II.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28)

Carsten Jensen’s “impressive seafaring saga” covers a lot of territory, said Tim Martin in the Financial Times. Its 700 rollicking pages follow four generations of sailors from one Danish village, carrying readers from an 1848 naval battle through the end of World War II. Displaying a “distinctly Scandinavian” sense of humor, Jensen first introduces Laurids Madsen, a sailor tossed skyward by an explosion only to be mooned by Saint Peter. Later, Madsen disappears on a Dutch ship, prompting his son Albert to search the high seas for him. Albert becomes “the novel’s moral compass,” said Sam Sacks in The Wall Street Journal. As he encounters cannibals, smugglers, and even the shrunken head of Captain Cook, we see the atrocities of the imperial seafaring era through his eyes. Drawing on influences ranging from Norse myth to The Odyssey, Jensen has produced a “towering” work, one that has much to say about history but is “most memorable for the sheer gusto of its narrative.”

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