Go, Went, Gone
Richard is a widowed man who lives in Berlin, and a newly retired professor who doesn't know how to fill his free time. He sticks to his routines, until one day he spots a protest/hunger strike by African refugees in Alexanderplatz, a large public square in Berlin. And so begins Jenny Erpenbeck's Go, Went, Gone.
The refugees are asylum speakers and desperately want the German government to permit them to work and begin to build a life in Germany. Richard starts to speak with the refugees. He comes up with a list of questions, which struck me -- the questions started with "where did you grow up?" and ends with "where do you want to be buried?" At one point, when he's talking to one of the refugees, "Richard wishes he knew what questions would lead to the land of beautiful answers." There's Karon and Ashad from Ghana, Apollo, a Tuareg from Niger, Rashid, a man who lost his children on a shipwreck fleeing Libya, and Osaboro, from Niger.....Richard is transformed through his interactions with these men; and as The New Yorker points out, "The risks inherent in making fiction out of the encounter between privileged Europeans and powerless dark-skinned non-Europeans are immense... “Go, Went, Gone” is not that kind of book."
The book is a slow build; after a crazy year where I read 100 books (yes), this was my 3rd book of 2018 and it forced me to slow down and really take in every single sentence. Perhaps it's because it's written in present tense; a choice that makes you experience the narrative as Richard does. The title is from when Richard is teaching German to some of the asylum seekers.
Where can a person go when he doesn't know where to go?