Kerstin Ekman’s The Forest of Hours (first published in Swedish in 1988) and Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation(published in German as Heimsuchung in 2008) span two decades and two countries, but both novels reach across far larger epochs, in their respective journeys from Europe’s glacial prehistory through the Dark Ages and the Thirty Years War, and through the twentieth century’s collective trauma. Though disagreement persists on when the Anthropocene began to leave its mark in stone, contemporary fiction often registers its traces through a marginally human witness who somehow survives generation after generation, recording in word or action what he or she has seen – and, in Ekman and Erpenbeck’s novels, heard. Music plays a significant role in both of these texts. It works thematically in Ekman’s Forest of Hours, in moments of transformation experienced by a semi-human troll in different historical periods, as well as structurally in the novel’s repetitions. In Erpenbeck’s Visitation, the recurring witness figure of a Gardener echoes Ekman’s liminal, looping perspective, while the novel’s detailed musical references signal the survival of the human in inhuman times. Drawing on Christine Marran’s model of “obligate storytelling,” this article argues that music’s presence in both novels binds human and nonhuman experience, memory and metanoia, like the flow of water that leaves patterns of erosion and transforms the land. The Anthropocene’s long view allows both of these novels to witness, most trenchantly through sound, the human capacity not only to destroy but also to love the sensory world.

Author Biography

Heidi Hart is a Pushcart Prize-winning poet who holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University. She currently teaches German and English courses at Weber State University. She has recently published two monographs, one on Hanns Eisler's activist art songs and another on music in climate-crisis narrative.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.