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F by Daniel Kehlmann


by Daniel Kehlmann ; translated by Carol Brown Janeway

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-91181-0
Publisher: Pantheon

An elusive novel whose events remain cryptic and largely unexplained.

The central event of the novel occurs in 1984, when Arthur Friedland takes his three sons to see the Great Lindemann, a hypnotist, in a public performance. The oldest son is Martin, and the other two (by a different mother) are twins Ivan and Eric. They have not been close—in fact, they scarcely know each other at all—but their appearance with their father that afternoon in some ways informs the rest of their lives. The unemployed Arthur boasts to Lindemann: "You can’t hypnotize me….I know how [hypnotism] works" and suggests that the hypnotist find a more pliant subject. Lindemann does, however, succeed in hypnotizing Arthur, and during hypnosis, Arthur reveals that he wants to get away from his current life. The next day, Arthur takes his passport, cleans out his bank account and sends a telegram to his wife, informing her that he’ll be away a long time. The narrative then shifts to Arthur’s sons, now grown men. Martin has converted to Roman Catholicism and become a priest. (He's also an expert solver of the Rubik’s Cube puzzle and participates in national contests.) Eric becomes a fraudulent investor who can’t get through a day without doses of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medicines, and Ivan becomes an art forger in league with the mediocre, yet in-demand, artist whose work he fakes. Meanwhile, the reclusive Arthur has become a best-selling author whose cynical semiautobiographical book, My Name Is No One, featuring a main character named “F,” has led to a rash of suicides by readers who take its message of hopelessness to heart.

German writer Kehlmann (Fame, 2010, etc.) takes us on a strange and enigmatic journey here.