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Me and Kaminski: A Novel Hardcover – November 18, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

German literary wunderkind Kehlmann follows up Measuring the World (2006) with this curious and lesser novel. Self-conscious and yet completely un–self-aware, journalist Sebastian Zollner attempts to outdo his art critic rival by writing the biography of reclusive painter Manuel Kaminski. Sebastian is amusingly sad, if one-note: he lives in denial that his live-in girlfriend broke up with him months ago; after an offhand comment by a transit worker, he becomes obsessed with his receding hairline; and he detests in others everything he so blithely ignores about himself. He weasels himself into Kaminski's household, snoops through the artist's private files, discovers a series of unfinished paintings and attempts to up the drama by reuniting Kaminski with his ex-wife, long thought dead. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Kaminski is manipulating pathetic Sebastian, and Sebastian's plans are thwarted in favor of the master's own. There are entertaining and lightly satirical moments, but for the most part the story feels rushed, with everyone except Sebastian getting short shrift. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

The best-selling author of Measuring the World (2006) returns with this road novel, featuring a pair of unlikely buddies in self-absorbed journalist Sebastian Zollner and reclusive painter Manuel Kaminski. Sebastian believes that his proposed biography of the legendary blind painter will save both his career and his deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend. Convinced that the only way to bring his work alive is to spend time with the ailing artist, he makes the arduous trek to Kaminski’s remote mountain retreat, insinuates himself into the household, rifles through the artist’s personal possessions, and, finally, spirits Kaminski out of the house and into a car for an antic road trip to find the great love of the painter’s life, a woman he has long believed to be dead. As the painter systematically disabuses Sebastian of his ill-informed opinions on art and tricks him into paying for the entire trip, Sebastian gradually begins to let go of his life’s ambition and to appreciate the old painter’s blunt wisdom. In this delightfully comic novel, Kehlmann wittily poses questions about the nature of celebrity and the value of art. --Joanne Wilkinson
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (November 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030737744X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307377449
  • Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 0.9 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,737,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
`Me and Kaminski` (2003) is a sophisticated satire by Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann. It's about a young biographer, Sebastian, who interviews a "famous" but old and near-death painter, Kaminski, so that Sebastian can publish an authoritative biography and - he hopes - become famous and wealthy. We quickly discover Sebastian is a hollow narcissist who cares only for himself ("Me" is first in the title) and gradually come to realize that Kaminski is even worse! Both use charm and guile to get their ways so the two together make for comedy. The trickster, Sebastian, becomes the tricked, by Kaminski, who gets Sebastian to drive him around, pay for things etc. The humor here is that among writers, biographers have a reputation as ambulance chasers and grave diggers, it's what hack writers do who can't do anything else, so we laugh at the comeuppance and turning of tables. Yet is Kaminski also a hack painter? His "fame" rests mainly on a few letters of recommendation and not his paintings which never sold well. Even the people in his village aren't sure who he is. It raises questions of authenticity, what is really important in life, the pretensions of the art world, image versus substance.

Overall I enjoyed the novel but it's probably not for everyone, it will take some thinking and appreciation. It's carefully written, not much is by accident, for example the hitchhiker, Karl Ludwig, infers that a painting is the work of the devil, and likewise it's hard to escape the Faustian nature of the story, is Kaminski really the devil who had made a bargain with Sebastian? There is more of this type of symbolism for those who wish to find depth beyond the surface story, it rewards contemplation which is the mark of good piece of art.
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By Allen J on September 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I did not expect to be sorry to see this book end. However about 2/3 in I found myself wishing there was going to be more left. The characters slowly captured me and finally held me more than the story and I liked them.
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Format: Paperback
"Me and Kaminski", by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway (204 pgs., 2003, 2008). According to the dust jacket blurbs, this is supposed to be a "wickedly funny . . . firecracker of a novel."
On the back cover, one German reviewer wrote that he hadn't "Laughed so hard reading a new German novel for a long time . . . "
A book reviewer for THE WASHINGTON POST'S BOOK WORLD mentioned that Kehlmann wrote in a "lightly surreal style . . . with flashes of magical realism . . ."
I don't know what book those people were reading. I didn't laugh. Not even once. I guess German humor is very deep. It is so deep I couldn't find it. Was this a decent novel? Yes. It strikes at the pretentiousness of false pride, focusing on pretensions in the art world & how truth is bent by scoop seeking journalists.
In this book, conniving art journalists are being out-connived by the conniving artists they are seeking to scoop. Is that humorous? Perhaps. Yet, the writing is more deadly serious than sarcastically humorous. In the end, it's the reader who gets totally fooled by a great O'Henryesque finale.
If allowed, this book would be receiving 2.5 stars instead of 3. But, half-stars are not allowed.
Perhaps, in the hand of a deft director this would make a good comic movie?
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Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant satirical novel, the bare events of its plot further enriched by the presence of both a poetic and a philosophical subtext. Its protagonist is a snoopy, narcissistic journalist, Sebastian Zollner, eager to make his "important" career in the art world by writing the biography of a once famous painter, Manuel Kaminski, now a recluse whose chief works were a series of mirror-image paintings called "Reflections.". The title, adroitly putting "Me" before "Kaminski" as it does, is the perfectly chosen open sesame into the self-absorbed character of Sebastian. Especially winning is the later tying together of Kaminski's art and Zollner's life, for author Kehlmann has Sebastian in a key moment look into a mirror and see only a stranger. Seeking the truth about his subject's life pure and simple, Sebastian in frustration discovers the persons he interviews about Kaminski contradict one another, and he is led to realize in a way the wisdom in Wilde's quip about seeing into others, that "the truth is never pure and rarely simple."

This novel bears a resemblance to Henry James' "Aspern Papers," a work featuring a similarly prying journalist who is brought at length to see, though from a less overtly philosophical perspective, his own emptiness. Zollner realizes after his fruitless quest for ownership of Kaminski's life an undeniable similarity to the experience of the follower of an Eastern sage mentioned earlier in the novel, the discovery that he finally has "nothing" and should even give that "nothing" up.

"Me and Kaminski" is a novel that has been carefully "written;" nothing in its series of interviews and madcap adventures is by chance. As such, it is a tale whose events are radiant with meaning, and, consequently, one which merits rereading.
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