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Fame: A Novel in Nine Stories by Daniel Kehlmann

November 6, 2011 19 comments

Fame: A Novel in Nine Stories by Daniel Kehlmann. 2009. Original title: Ruhm. French title: Gloire.

This is my first read for the German Lit Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. I chose it after reading Guy’s review here. Fame is a strange exhilarating book. It’s made of nine different stories, each making sense as a stand-alone but taking an extra dimension when read among the others. Indeed, the stories bounce on each other, featuring recurring characters, one story explaining a detail included in another story or casually referring to an event that took place in another tale.

The recurring characters are a famous actor Ralph Tanner, an acclaimed writer Leo Richter and a successful writer of self-help books Miguel Auristos Blancos. They are either main characters in a story or side characters in others, impacting other people’s lives. It’s very well-constructed; it’s a real pleasure to cross-reference events, characters and to discover the network of relationships and events that tie them together. Seen Short Cuts by Robert Altman? That would be it.

Fame is a topic but not the only one. I enjoyed the interaction writer/character in Rosalie Goes Off to Die and in In Danger. Leo Richter isn’t a likeable character and his lover Elisabeth always fears she’ll end up as a character in one of his stories. I’ve always wondered how relatives and friends of writers handle that when it happens. Do they have the feeling that the author steals their lives and betrays them? Leo is a coward; he’s constantly ranting, moping and whining. And selfish too, not grateful at all that these readers who come and hear his lectures buy his books and allow him to pay the bills. He’s looking down on them, mocking their clothes, their questions, their conversation. There’s a huge gap between the quality of his literary work and the qualities of the man.

A recurring them is modern communications. It’s present in A Contribution to the Debate through Mollwitz, a nerd spending most of his awaken time commenting on forums and blogs. His avatar is mollwitt, the “translation” of his German name into English, as witz means witt. Several characters work for a cell phone company. It also explores the way we have the world within touch in our pocket with our web phone. We, bloggers know that, the virtual proximity with people we’ve never met and live on the other side of the planet.

Daniel Kehlmann also depicts the globalization of culture and of thinking through the Brazilian writer Miguel Auristos Blancos (Paolo Coehlo??) He writes self-help books and pseudo-philosophical works about accepting life and living in peace with yourself. His books appear in every story, in a way or another, whatever the country, whatever the décor or the social background of the characters. It made me think of bookstores in airport: look at them, you’ll find the same authors everywhere.

In How I Lied and Died, Kehlmann shows how cheating is easier with technologies and it reminded me of Jonathan Coe’s character who captures noises in airports to help cheaters make their spouse believe they are where they aren’t.

I’d like to focus a bit on Contribution to the Debate, probably my favorite story. It is a first person narrative by Mollwitz himself. It’s written in the language of nerds, full of English words. My mom wouldn’t understand half of it and I could imagine her complaining “Can’t they write in French? Don’t we have enough words?” Actually, I think the story can be pretty obscure for someone who doesn’t speak English and/or knows nothing about forums and blogs. (Since my mom meets both criteria, reading this would be like deciphering the Rosetta Stone). I wrote this – I who just learnt that the French word for “post” is “billet” – and then I wanted to include a quote and see how it looked like in English. (thanks Amazon “look inside”!!) So here is the opening paragraph of the story:

Là il va falloir que je re-monte en arrière. Sorry et : je sais bien que lithuania23 et icu_lop vont à nouveau se moquer de la longueur de ce post et bien sûr lordoftheflakes, ce troll, comme récemment dans son flame sur movieforum, mais je peux pas faire plus court et celui qu’est pressé, il a qu’à passer direct à la suite. Rencontrer des people ? Alors là attention !Je dois dire au préalable que je suis un fan hard-de-chez-core de ce forum. 24 carats, comme idée. Des types clean tels que moi et toi qui repèrent les celebs et en parlent : cool à profusion, vachement bien conçu, intéressant pour tout un chacun et ça fait aussi fonction de contrôle, pour ce qu’ils savent qu’ils sont scannés et peuvent pas se comporter comme je sais quoi. Ca fait des siècles que je voulais mettre un post ici, mais pas de problème, d’où problème. Or là-dessus le week-end dernier, et de suite, tous azimuts. Here I have to back up. Sorry: perfectly clear that lithuania23 and icu-lop will flame this posting for being too long; so will that troll lordoftheFlakes, just like he flamed on MovieForum, but I can’t do it shorter, and whoever’s in a hurry can just skip it. Meeting celebrities? Heads up!Must signal that I’m a huge hardcore fan of this forum. Platinium idea. Normal types like you and me who spot famous people and report on their sightings: chill, no? wicked idea, really well worked out, interesting to everyone and besides it acts like control, so they know they’re being scanned and can’t just goof off. Wanted to post here forever, only where to get the stuff. But then came last weekend, the whole load.

The English version has as many syntax errors and spoken language than the French but I think the French version is more obscure to the offline reader than the English. Unfortunately the “look inside” of Amazon Germany didn’t allow me to find the same quote in German. Are there all these English words in the original version or is it the work of the French translator? However, the reader understands that Mollwitz lives in an alternate reality as his real life is nonexistent. He lives with his tyrannical mother, has no friends and having a girl-friend seems out of the question.

The style varies from one story to the other, showing characters trapped in their lives and living through events due to the decisions made by other characters in another story. It’s full of spot on and witty remarks on life in general and on our modern world in particular. A delight.

German Literature Month in November: my selection

September 28, 2011 22 comments

After a moment of hesitation, I decided to participate to the German Reading Month hosted by Caroline (Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life). It will take place in November and will overlap my EU Book Tour project. After Dutch literature in June, German-speaking literature in November.

I’m not well read in German literature. When I think of the German books I’ve read and loved, most of them are by Austrian or Czech writers (Zweig, Kafka, Schnitzler, Rilke). Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled by the few books from Germany I’ve read so far. The Sorrows of the Young Werther by Goethe? Romanticism isn’t my cup of tea. Mademoiselle de Scudéry by E.T.A. Hoffmann? Not a remarkable landmark in my reading history. The Left Handed Woman by Peter Handke? Brr, terrible experience. Death in Venice by Thomas Man? I can’t recall a single thing from the plot. And I didn’t even remember I had read The Lost Honor of Katarina Blum until I started investigating Heinrich Böll for this event.

I think this was all bad luck and I’m sure there must be German books I will enjoy. I never picked up the right ones, that’s all. Anyway, I looked for the German books on my shelves and on my wish lists. I’m terribly lazy, so I eliminated big books and here is the dream list.

Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1895)

Caroline and Lizzy organize a readalong. I’ll probably read it at my own pace. Sorry Caroline and Lizzy, but reading determined chapters each week sounds like school and I’m not up for it. But I’m really interested in discovering Effi Briest.

 

 

Un mariage à Lyon by Stefan Zweig, a French collection of short stories including:

German Title

French Title

English Title

Die Hochzeit von Lyon (1927) Un mariage à Lyon A Wedding in Lyon (*)
Im Schnee (1901) Dans la neige In the Snow (*)
Das Kreuz (1906) La Croix The Cross (*)
Geschichte eines Untergangs (1910) Histoire d’une déchéance Twilight
Die Legende der dritten Taube (1916) La légende de la troisième colombe The Legend of the third Dove (*)
Episode am Genfer See (1919) Au bord du lac Léman By Lake Léman (*)
Der Zwang (1916) La Contrainte Constraint (*)

(*) I have no idea of the English title used by publishers, so I added the literal translation of the German title. I’ll never thank enough French publishers for sticking to literal translations of book titles most of the time. For a review of Twilight, read Guy’s post here.

Lettres à Lou Andreas-Salome by Rainer Maria Rilke

This small book is a collection of letters Rilke wrote to his beloved Lou Andreas-Salome. I love Rilke. There’s nothing else to say. I’m looking forward to this bath in his soothing and wise prose. I also enjoy that collection of tiny books by Mille et Une Nuits. I have other titles from it and they’re always enchanting. I owe them a great translation of Ovide.

 

Hotel Savoy by Josef Roth (1924)

I’ve had in mind to read a book by Josef Roth for a while and this one seems just great.

Beton by Thomas Bernhard (1982)

The English title is Concrete and the French one Béton. I added it to my TBR after Guy’s review. You can read it here.

 

 

 

Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt by Herta Müller (1994).

The French title is the translation of the German, L’homme est un grand faisan sur la terre. The English title, The Passport, is totally invented by the publisher. Indeed, the original title means Man is a great pheasant on the earth, which is much more intriguing in my opinion. I was intrigued by the title and interested in reading a book by the Nobel Prize Winner of 2009. 

 

Ruhm: Ein Roman in neun Geschichten by Daniel Kehlmann (2009)

The English title is Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes. The French title is Gloire. I expect a lot of fun with this collection of short stories by an Austrian writer. Another reading idea I owe to Guy. Here is the link to his review.

 

 

I wanted to try another Heinrich Böll but I wasn’t tempted the blurbs of the books available in paperback. Ooops.Now that I look at my list again, I realize I’m not going to discover a lot of books from Germany. Tant pis. Of course, I’m not sure I’ll be able to read all this in time but I’ll try. Most of the books are short.

If anyone has read one of these, I’m interested in your take.

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