The second English translation from the young German author (Measuring the World, 2006).
Sebastian Zollner is a journalist, a vocation for which he is spectacularly unsuited. His strongest—really, only—character trait is self-absorption, which makes him a thoroughly unperceptive observer. He might be the world’s most boorish art critic, and his most recent endeavor—the biography of a reclusive artist who will, with any luck, soon be dead—is compelling not so much because he’s interested in the man’s work, but because Zollner is pretty sure that he can get “a first-serial deal in one of the major color magazines.” But it turns out that Zollner is no match for Manuel Kaminski. A contemporary of Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso, Kaminski never quite achieved the acclaim of those modern luminaries, but he did achieve a certain kind of fame as a painter who worked while going blind. But before Zollner can discover whether Kaminski is a genius, a fraud, or both, the old man convinces his biographer to take him on a quest to find a lover whom he had thought was lost forever. While it is a less delightful story than Measuring the World, this novel is also a sort of European intellectual version of the buddy picture. Once again, Kehlmann explores a relationship between two men shaped by extraordinary circumstances—in this case, those circumstances include an untrustworthy hitchhiker and a rather pleasant prostitute. But the use of Zollner’s first-person voice doesn’t quite work. As an unreliable narrator, he is kind of hilarious, but the humanity he achieves by the end of his relationship with Kaminski will make the careful reader wonder about his cartoonish lack of empathy at the beginning of the novel.
Smartly entertaining, if not entirely convincing, lampoon of contemporary fame and the celebrity biography.