We, The Drowned, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


In 1848 a motley crew of Danish sailors sets sail from the small island town of Marstal to fight the Germans.

Not all of them return - and those who do will never be the same.

Among them is the daredevil Laurids Madsen, who promptly escapes again into the anonymity of the high seas.

Spanning four generations, two world wars and a hundred years, We, The Drowned is an epic tale of adventure, ruthlessness and passion.


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Reading this book took a long time, but it was worth it. We, the Drowned is a novel spanning 100 years, or roughly three generations, of a Danish seafaring town, Marstal. In so doing, the narrative often, perhaps about half the time, takes us out onto the ships with the Marstal sailors. There is much description of hardship, cruelty and war at sea. But also we see the lives of those ashore, the women and families awaiting fathers, husbands and sons who are often gone for years at a time or who never return at all. Each generation has its war. The opening scenes in the late 1800s bring us aboard a warship as civilian sailors are drafted to fight in war against a German province revolting against Danish rule. World War One, however, is seen mostly through the eyes of a retired sailor whose vivid dreams show him the trials and deaths of the Danish merchant marines undergoing attacks from German U-Boats who respect not at all Denmark's official neutrality in the conflict. Then throughout World War Two we are aboard a merchant steamer traveling in convoys across the North Atlantic awaiting torpedoes and dive bombing Stukas. As important and vivid as their scenes are to the story, we also see the sailors at war against the sea itself and, occasionally, against sadistic ships' officers. We also see several characters through their lives, with experiences from childhood through old age related in very readable detail. Through it all, the town of Marstal itself is the constant protagonist, with the town's changing fortunes and position among seafaring towns affecting the sailors' experiences as they travel. Jensen manages this in a very interesting manner. Many of the stories of events that take place in town are narrated by an occasionally appearing, unnamed "we," as in, "We listened to his stories in the bar, not knowing what to think." This never specified "we" pops up unchanged throughout the generations, creating the effect of an unbroken continuum across the years. I suppose that could have been distracting, but, for me, it worked quite well to create an interesting effect. The book, in my edition, is 690 pages long. There are some slower stretches, certainly. But overall, I found this to be a work of of often mesmerizing storytelling, a grand tale about the human condition.