The Austrian Writer You Should Already Know: Daniel Kehlmann

Great news! – I have a living author to recommend who hasn’t only consistently written incredible novels and short stories, but who has written so few that within a week (trust me, you’ll want to plow through them once you get going) that you can easily become an authority on him. He’s not an Isaac Asimov, with hundreds upon hundreds of books. No, he’s written three novels, one short-story collection, and a novella (he may have more that hasn’t yet been translated into English – I don’t know).

But why should you want to devour everything Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann‘s written? Well…

The main reason is that, with Daniel Kehlmann, there’s no intimidation factor. I may have mentioned this before, but unless I know a person is already well versed enough in literature to not be concerned about length or difficult language, I tend to recommend books with a low intimidation factor. The Road and The Circle are some of my go-to ones – the first is one of the best novels of the last thirty-odd years, and the second is a great 1984 for 2017 (you can read my thoughts about the latter here). But in the case of Cormac McCarthy, while The Road isn’t difficult at all to read, his masterpiece, Blood Meridian (see this blog post), does require a bit of commitment. The prose is far denser, the plot more complex, and while I’d argue the book is superior, I could easily see it turning off readers who don’t want to have to work at reading.

But Daniel Kehlmann, like I said, doesn’t have this problem. All his books are great and all of them are easily digestible as a Harry Potter novel. Each one is also unique, which is why I’ve provided below the order I’d recommend you read them in:

1. Fame – I generally don’t like short-story collections, but this is my favorite and contains some of the most powerful short stories I’ve ever read. They all revolve around the concept of fame, but really it’s more about identity in modern society. One of the funniest stories is about a day in the life of an internet troll. Another is about a movie star who becomes an impersonator of himself and runs into trouble when an impersonator takes over his life. The most shattering story, though, is about a famous writer who travels to a country where no one knows her and she finds out just how dangerous it can be to become literally anonymous.

I can’t recommend Fame enough.


2. F. – This was my first introduction to Kehlmann and it was obviously good enough that it spurred me to read everything he wrote. F. centers on a family, primarily a father, his three sons, and eventually his granddaughter. One son is a priest, the second works in finance, and the third is a painter, while the father is a writer who abandons them at an early age only to reappear years later. Each son and then the granddaughter gets a section to tell their individual stories. There are even sections seemingly divorced from the plot, but are rich in and of themselves and reinforce the themes of the book.

F. is a powerful portrait of a family with brothers as diverse as the Karamazovs.


3. Measuring the World – This is the first of Kehlmann’s books I think might not appeal to everyone. That’s because it focuses on the lives of Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt. Don’t get me wrong – Kehlmann makes the lives of each man absolutely riveting (and surprisingly funny at times). But I’m aware that not everyone may be excited at the thought of reading about a mathematician and a biologist (although each was so much more). Then again, Gauss is considered by many to be the second greatest mathematician of all time and Humboldt, well, he’s probably one of the greatest explorers, not to mention adventurers who’s ever lived.

Measuring the World is a story that will delight fans of the history of mathematics and science and delight any other reader who’s willing to take a shot and give this off-beat book a chance.


4. Me and Kaminski – This is the Kehlmann novel I enjoyed least, I’ll admit, primarily because the whole novel revolves around the most repugnant character he’s invented yet. That said, it’s a funny book that touches on the art world in pretty interesting ways. It’ll certainly entertain anyone who enjoys dark humor.

Me and Kaminski is a funny story that makes what might be an unbearable character in another author’s hands into one that can sustain an entire novel.


So there you go – that’s my rundown of Daniel Kehlmann’s work so far.

But wait! He just released a new novella recently – You Should Have Left. Where does that fit in the list? I’ll tell you after I read it.

But in the meantime, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

So go read every other Kehlmann book. Now.


Note: If you’re curious, I read them in this order: F.Measuring the WorldMe and Kaminski, and Fame. If possible, I always like to read books in the order in which they were published to see if I can notice any arc to the author’s career. F. is his latest novel, but hey, I didn’t know that when I picked it up.


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