Esther Kinsky

Grove - A Field Novel

(German title: Hain)
ca. 287 pages
Esther Kinsky
Foto: Esther Kinsky
© Heike Steinweg

Esther Kinsky was born in Engelskirchen in 1956 and lives in Berlin. She has been awarded numerous prizes for her extensive oeuvre, which includes translations from the Polish, Russian and English as well as poetry, essays and works of fiction.

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English world rights (Fitzcarraldo), France (Grasset), Italy (Il Saggiatore)

Winner of the Leipzig Book Fair Prize 2018

Winner of the
Düsseldorf Literature Prize 2018


Profoundly empathetic, and austere – a minor-key exploration of landscape and land.

Grove is a novel in three parts, each of them concerned with a different journey in a different Italy.

In the first part, the narrator, recently bereaved, travels to a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, and from her temporary residence on a hill between village and cemetery she embarks on walks and brief outings, exploring the banal and the sublime with equal dedication and intensity. Her perception is coloured by bereavement and the need to process her loss, but also by a profound curiosity in the details that make up the life around her and the way they refer to the many places of the dead, from the local cemetery to the ancient Etruscan tombs on the coast. Gazing, seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place in this world.

The second part of the novel takes us to 70s Italy, where the narrator often visited as a child, with her father. Fragmented impressions and memories – of Communist party rallies, roadside restaurants, film sequences, birdlife, and the ubiquitous Etruscan necropoli – combine into a peculiar mosaic of a bygone era which at the same time forms the backdrop for the rest of the novel which is set in the present.

The third part is set in Northern Italy, between Ferrara and the Po estuary, some years after the bereavement. The vast flat landscape of the Bassa Padana unfolds in front of the reader, part water, part land, dominated by a variety of birds which seem to have become the narrator’s favoured companions on her walks, and watch over the vanished necropolis of Spina in the delta region. This last part is pervaded by a sense of reconciliation with loss, but also by a new kind of curiosity in contemporary Italy and the continuous silent presence of bereavement in the shape of helpless, homeless refugees, wandering the streets of sleepy villages and little towns.

Esther Kinsky’s travels and forays – both in the present and in the remembered past – are Italian Journeys of a unique kind. Appealing to all senses, they explore external terrain and yet, they take the reader inwards, to potential closure for grief and to islands of solace. The travelling, wandering narrator’s gaze elicits from each landscape the beauty that arises from engagement with every detail, however insignificant it may initially seem.


»Like a landscape painter who day after day sets up their easel outside, Esther Kinsky directs her eyes onto the terrain, studies it at particular times and in ever-changing weather, seeks to understand its anatomy as well as the way it is used by people.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

»[Esther Kinsky] has an endless amount of words and expressions, an almost eerily differentiated vocabulary for the fallows, marshland, groves, woods, for that botanical-geological in-between, which is also an in-between of meaning … This much absence in the presence of words is rare, and it makes for great art.« Süddeutsche Zeitung

»For it is this ambivalence, this relaxed cleaving asunder, this shimmering multiplicity of meanings, every thing the narrator notes and keeps from her two recent trips to Italy and the memory of countless previous ones with her long-dead father, that gives this book its extraordinary charm.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»Delivered in rhythmic prose, sparsely furnished with metaphorical comparisons, and immaculately composed, Grove is an impressive song of mourning and, at the same time, a still life of subdued colours.« Deutschlandfunk Kultur

»Esther Kinsky’s excursions and wanderings ... are Italian Journeys of a unique kind. Appealing to all the senses they explore the external terrain, and yet take the reader inward, to potential closure with grief and pain, and to islands of solace. The traveller’s compassionate, precise gaze elicits from the landscape that which is usually concealed: mystery and beauty.« BUCH-MAGAZIN

»Kinsky’s language is always a phonetic wonder. Stringing together chirping consonants and breathy vowels, her sentences have a sound to which one willingly submits. Essentially Kinsky is a musician, playing letters instead of notes.« Rheinische Post

»Poetry of the most beautiful kind – Esther Kinsky’s works are exceptionally, exceptionally shimmering literary jewels. Kneel down before them!« literaturmarkt.info

»Not nature’s beauty. It is the beauty of the unassuming, sometimes even the ugly, that teases a unique aesthetic out of Esther Kinsky. Nature-writing on rootlessness. The narrator manages to keep her distance from the reader while enchanting them through her images at the same time.« WDR 5

»An abundance of sensual details ... establishes a unique tone, one that on every side binds life’s surges to death ... « MDR

»A Field Novel appears beneath the title of Esther Kinsky’s superb novel Grove. Field refers to an unspecific landscape. Every thing is far away and slightly washed out, what’s close as well as what’s far. No landscape has ever unfolded more somberly, no novel ever been painted more somberly. Grief must bear the weight of the world and full of grief the anonymous narrator becomes one with the brittle manifestations of the Italian winter. She has come alone. Her husband, the man with whom she loved to travel, has recently died. Grief de-invidualizes a person, brings them into a greater order, turns them into a part of an allegory. Esther Kinsky skirts the razor’s edge between isolation and symbolism and thus succeeds, on the individual side, to avoid the sentimental and, on the symbolic side, the pathetic. Though the novel’s movement may be slow, almost viscous, in its tonal mood of bereavement the language that forms these movements is utterly energetic, and shifts almost seamlessly from concrete landscape to symbol. And as a result ghostly presences begin to develop. In a forgotten pocket of an old photo bag the narrator finds an old negative and recognises the silhouette of her husband. Technical media and great art are necromancers. Grove too is a necromancer, a literary Requiem, a Winterreise to the dead. Deeply sad and darkly beautiful. The novel is masterly and uplifting and without any doubt it offers solace.« Hubert Winkels, jury member of the Düsseldorf Literature Prize 2018.

Praise for Am Fluss (River):

»River is an unusual and stealthy sort of book in that it’s the opposite of what it appears to be – which is a rather apt dissimulation, as it turns out. Yes, it rifles through both the rich and rank materials of the world, turning over its trinkets and its tat, in a manner that is initially quite familiar – however, this curious inventory demonstrates an eye for the grotesque and does not hold the world aloft, or in place. Here, details blur boundaries rather than reaffirming them, positing a worldview that is haunted and uncanny. « Claire-Louise Bennett, author of Pond

»…it‘s hard to escape the feeling that Esther Kinsky has produced a minor-key masterpiece.« Jacob Silkstone, Asymptote

»No matter whether Kinsky describes things, foreign people or landscapes, the surplus love she has at her disposal becomes visible in the sensitive prose in which she sees the world. « Hans-Peter Kunisch, Süddeutsche Zeitung

»An extraordinary book and a major writer. « Nelly Kapriélan, Les Inrockuptibles