There are times when I wonder if the world is divided into those
who love the sea and those who need to be near the mountains.
Personally I'd opt for the peaks anytime as I've always had a
healthy mistrust of just how angry any bit of water can get, almost
as if it knows I'm mistrustful.
So when Random House all but insisted that I
interview Carsten Jensen for The Interview Online my heart sank to the bottom
of the nearest pond. Then suddenly some fifty pages in to We,
the Drowned it was almost as if I'd turned into a fair wind
and the book had me on sitting on the bow, the wind in my face
enjoying every exhilarating wave in this epic novel.
It's the story of a small community of some 3,000 souls in a
small Danish island in the Baltic over a hundred year period.
Although Marstal is still very much in existence (indeed Jensen
came from the town) and its history is well know, the tales are
mostly fictitious. These are stories taken from the town's archive
and embellished - tales of how these lads all went to sea as a
pre-determined career option since there was precious little else
they could do to earn a living. And the women and kids left at
home? Did they ever know they would see their husbands, brothers,
sons or fathers again? Like heck they didn't.
As you will hear in the interview, you had to be tough to
survive. "You boys from Marstal, you are everywhere" says a
character in the book and given that they sailed the seven seas,
apparently it wasn't that extraordinary for neighbours from round
the corner at home would bump into each other in a port in
Newfoundland or China.
We, the Drowned has already changed tourism in Marstal
in Denmark. Hotel managers love Carsten Jensen as tourists flock to
the small museum to find out more about the history of this small
town. Jensen is a national celebrity having not only won the Danish
equivalent of the Man
Book Prize but also the Olof Palme
Prize. Few British papers
seem to have reviewed this book which is a shame - perhaps there is
some prejudice in reviewing books in translation. However one can't
help feeling that it's success will be down to those who enjoy a
Interviewing Carsten Jensen
was a pleasure, although it was enormously difficult to keep the
interview short and I do hope you'll forgive me for running
at 7'44", there was much more I could have included but I
didn't want to push my audience's patience. I am grateful to
Marstal's museum for the archive pictures by the way.
Despite the fact that the hardback edition's 690 weighs in a
just under a kilo, you can be assured that We, the Drowned
is not a heavy read. "Unputdownable" is a cliché but you just do
need to rest your arms once in a while.
And in case anyone is interested, Carsten Jensen is married to
the author Liz Jensen. The fact that they share a surname is purely
co-incidental, Liz being of Danish extraction and who speaks
beautiful Danish herself - as I overheard her at the book launch
which took place at Danish Embassy in London. Somewhere in my
archives I do have interview with her about My Dirty Little
Book of Stolen Time. It was an interview in the very early
days of www.theinterviewonline.co.uk - I must
remember to get it out and upload it Liz - do remind me.
Read the blog post about this
interview - interviewing Carsten Jensen