Imagine being famous. Being recognized on the street, adored by people who have never even met you, known the world over. Wouldn't that be great?
But what if, one day, you got stuck in a country where celebrity means nothing, where no one spoke your language and you didn't speak theirs, where no one knew your face (no book jackets, no TV) and you had no way of calling home? How would your fame help you then?
What if someone got hold of your cell phone? What if they spoke to your girlfriends, your agent, your director, and started making decisions for you? And worse, what if no one believed you were you anymore? When you saw a look-alike acting your roles for you, what would you do?
And what if one day you realized your magnum opus, like everything else you'd ever written, was a total waste of time, empty nonsense? What would you do next? Would your audience of seven million people keep you going? Or would you lose the capacity to keep on doing it?
Fame and facelessness, truth and deception, spin their way through all nine episodes of this captivating, wickedly funny, and perpetually surprising novel as paths cross and plots thicken, as characters become real people and real people morph into characters. The result is a dazzling tour de force by one of Europe's finest young writers.
Translated by Carol Brown Janeway.
Even before Ebling reached home, his cell phone rang. For years he had refused to buy one, because he was a technician and didn't trust the thing. Why did nobody wonder about whether it was a good idea to clutch a powerful source of radiation to your head? But Ebling had a wife, two children, and a handful of acquaintances, and one of them was always complaining that he was unreachable. So finally he'd given in and bought a phone, which he asked the guy he bought it from to activate immediately. In spite of himself, he was impressed: it was absolutely perfect, beautifully designed, smooth lines, elegant. And now, without warning, it was ringing.
Very hesitantly, he picked up.
A woman asked for someone called Raff, Ralf, or Rauff, he couldn't figure out the name. A mistake, he said, wrong number. She apologized and hung up.
That evening, the next call. "Ralf!" The man's voice was loud and hoarse. "What gives, what are you up to, you...
Daniel Kehlmann's novel can be read, in many ways, as an extended exploration of the distinctions between artifice and reality or, more precisely, between story and "real life," whatever that consists of. Defining that distinction - only to blur it again repeatedly - is the ongoing project of Kehlmann's brilliantly playful novel... With energy, flexibility, and elegance, Kehlmann constructs a brilliant whole, simultaneously playful and thoughtful, certainly the kind of novel that engages readers emotionally and intellectually in equal measure.
(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
Full Review (995 words).
In a now-infamous statement preceding the awarding of the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature to French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl remarked that the publishing climate in the United States had grown "too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." It's true that no American has won the Nobel Prize in literature since Toni Morrison did so in 1993. However, partly in defiance of Engdahl's statement, and partly in response to the recent run of prizewinners not writing in English, some American publishers are rediscovering the sometimes heady, sometimes just downright entertaining bounty of literature originally written in other ...
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