One of Germany's most celebrated young novelists updates and transforms the 16th-century classic Till Eulenspiegel.
The story is now set during the Thirty Years' War, 300 years after the time of the original story. And the boy protagonist's name is now spelled Tyll Ulenspiegel. After his Lutheran father, Claus, a miller, is hanged by the fanatical Jesuit inquisitor Oswald Tesimond for possessing books on black magic, Tyll escapes his village with his sister, Nele. A precocious kid with an obsession for tightrope walking, he becomes a prankish entertainer and provocateur who can transfix crowds with his act and create chaos. Told through multiple points of view, the novel mixes such historical figures as Elizabeth, exiled Winter Queen of Bohemia, with folkloric characters including a talking donkey named Origenes. Parts of the book could hardly be more relevant to the present, including this circular exchange on torture: "Without torture no one would ever confess anything!" "Whereas under torture everyone confesses." In exploring the borders between history and myth, Kehlmann (You Should Have Left, 2017, etc.) sometimes risks putting off readers with his intellectual gamesmanship. More often, he creates odd, darkly entertaining scenes. The miller is at the center of several of them. He is executed for possessing a book of spells that he can't read because it's in Latin. And no one has ever faced the gallows as sated as Claus, who pushes an all-you-can-eat last-meal policy to the max.
A richly inventive work of literature with a colorful cast of characters.