Saturday, August 30, 2014

F is for....

Here's the premise: a father has three sons, two (twins) by one woman and a third by another. The boys all live with their moms but he dutifully takes them on outings on the weekends. One Saturday they visit a hypnotist's show, and since the father insists that he can't be hypnotized, of course he is selected to participate. In the course of the show, the father reveals that he's always wanted to write professionally, but familial obligations have held him back. After the show ends and the boys and father are driving home, the father (who may or may not still be hypnotized) basically drops off the boys at one house and disappears from their lives to pursue his writing career. Thus begins the incredible new novel by Daniel Kehlmann, simply titled F.

F is one of those books I can't get out of my head. The novel follows the lives of the three sons and father, all of whom struggle with issues of identity and destiny as they move through the world. That sentence just made it sound tedious, though. I should mention now that it's not weighed down by excruciating, soul searching, stream of consciousness, meandering weirdness that burdens some literary fiction. F is fun.

The father, Arthur, does indeed become a famous writer, but at what cost?

Son #1: Martin's goal is to become the world champion Rubik's Cube master and can solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute. While this feat is his life's ambition, though, he finds himself living as a priest...who doesn't believe in God.

Son #2: Eric becomes a financier and makes a huge amount of money, but then watches as his questionable decisions threaten disaster and his family unravels.

Son #3: An artist, Ivan should have had his own successful career as a world renowned painter, but instead he becomes a forger, creating the paintings that make another man famous and for whom he acts as agent.

Daniel Kehlmann
F stands for family, faith, fate, fortune, forgery, fraud. It's at times funny, at times sad, at times tragic, all the time great reading. I love this book. It's the kind of amazing that compels me to go back and read everything Daniel Kehlmann has written because the guy is incredible.

A note about the translator: Daniel Kehlmann is a German writer and this novel was originally written in German. It does not suffer the fate of some translated works, seeming removed from an English-reading audience. I have never actually met Carol Brown Janeway, though she is an editor for Knopf and Pantheon (two of the publishers I represent). I have heard her present titles on the sales conference preparation CD's we receive, though, and the woman comes across sort of like the college professor whose course you audit because you just want to learn everything she has to say even though you didn't think you were interested in the topic. There is no finer translator of German to English that Janeway--you'd never know that the book was written in another language originally, which is the mark of a perfect translation. F is flawless.

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