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F: A Novel Hardcover – August 26, 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A New York Times Notable Book, an NPR Best Book of 2014, and a New Yorker Favorite Book of 2014

"Daniel Kehlmann’s strange and endlessly provoking novel, F (Pantheon, translated by Carol Brown Janeway), is several things at once: it is a mutilated family saga (a dubious father and three hopeless sons); a comic novel about faith and the absence of God (and, lest that not seem remarkable enough, I’ll add that it is a comic German novel about the absence of God); and a not merely clever meditation on what a fictional self is. Not merely clever but suggestive and powerful, because, like Jose Saramago, Kehlmann is interested in using metafictional questions to ask metaphysical questions. For him, the question “What is a fictional self?” leads to the question “What is this self we choose to call real?” In certain lights, F can seem a conventional tale of family woes, shaped around the life stories of the three failed Friedland brothers, Ivan, Eric, and Martin. Each, in different ways, is a fake or a fraud (one of the things “F” stands for in the book, along with “faith,” “family,” and “Friedland”). And there is pleasure to be had from reading the book in this way: these individual stories are full of detail and vitality. But the deepest delights—delights that offer consolation in a faithless or fake world—are to be found in the novel’s beautiful and cunning construction, and in its brilliantly self-interrogating form." —James Wood, The New Yorker (Favorite Books of 2014)

“As with Thomas Pynchon’s ‘V,’ or Tom McCarthy’s ‘C,’ in Daniel Kehlmann’s subtly yet masterly constructed puzzle cube of a new novel, readers and characters alike exist for a time in that hazy uncertain land, where there is not only the desire but the need to solve for x—or, in Kehlmann’s case, ‘F’ . . . translated deftly from the German by Carol Brown Janeway . . . ambitious . . . elegant.” —Joseph Salvatore, New York Times Book Review
 
“Kehlmann’s prose is sophisticated and often dense, his musings on religion, art and life are intellectually rigorous, and his plotting masterful in the linking of the story’s separate narratives with overlaps that, when revealed, surprise and shock the reader. . . . Kehlmann’s rendering of life’s mysteries. . . allow the reader a window to another world. . . as if looking (and listening) through clear, highly polished glass).”—NPR, All Things Considered

F is Daniel Kehlmann’s most technically accomplished novel yet.” —Anthony Cummins, The New Statesman

“A comic tour de force, a biting satire on the hypnotised world of artificial wants and needs that Huxley predicted, a moving study of brotherhood and family failure, F is an astonishing book, a work of deeply satisfying (and never merely clever) complexity that reveals yet another side of a prolifically inventive writer who never does the same thing twice. That one of its central motifs is the Rubik’s Cube is highly apt. . . . Yet F is also much more than an intricate puzzle: it is a novel of astonishing beauty, psychological insight and, finally, compassion, a book that, in a world of fakes and manufactured objects of desire, is the real article, a bona-fide, inimitable masterpiece.”—The Times Literary Supplement 

 “Each son’s tale reads like a satisfying novella, and the three eventually dovetail in a way that surprises without feeling overdetermined. . . . [Kehlmann] shows off many talents in F. He’s adept at aphorism, brainy humor and dreamlike sequences. And he keeps the pages lightly turning while musing deeply. . .’”—The New York Times
“[A] lollapalooza of a family comedy, diabolically intricate in its layering of concurrent narratives and dryly hilarious at every mazelike turn. . . . F is splashed with vivacious, hilarious characters and incidents that, with distance and time, transmogrify into something quite sinister indeed.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“The hallmarks of [Kehlmann’s] style are speed, wit and a nuanced appreciation of the absurd. He often writes about geniuses and fools and the thin line between them. He’s a specialist in the kind of irony that tells us more about a character, and ourselves, than sincerity ever could.”—Guernicamag.com
 
“A testament to the fact that conceptual novels need not be devoid of people and that family novels need not be devoid of ideas and that some darkly funny, smart absurdity is always a good idea. Well worth a read.” —Flavorwire.com
 
F gets an A.” —Harold Brubaker, Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“A tightly constructed exploration of filial tension and adult struggle. . . . a novel about ordinary people’s self-discoveries. . . as Kehlmann’s characters lay bare their troubled souls, we get a view that is comic and affecting”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Kehlmann is a writer of great craft and imagination.” —Adam Lively, The Sunday Times
 
“With the wizardry of a puzzle master Daniel Kehlmann permutes the narrative pieces of this Rubik's Cube of a story—involving a lost father and his three sons—into a solution that clicks into position with a deep thrill of narrative and emotional satisfaction. Kehlmann is one of the brightest, most pleasure-giving writers at work today, and he manages all this while exploring matters of deep philosophical and intellectual import.  He deserves to have more readers in the United States.” —Jeffrey Eugenides
 
F is an intricate, beautiful novel in multiple disguises: a family saga, a fable, and a high-speed farce. But then, what else would you expect? Daniel Kehlmann is one of the great novelists for making giant themes seem light.” —Adam Thirlwell

About the Author

Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975 and lives in Berlin and New York. His works have won the Candide Prize, the Doderer Prize, the Kleist Prize, the Welt Literature Prize, and the Thomas Mann Prize. Measuring the World was translated into more than forty languages and is one of the greatest successes in postwar German literature.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; Reissue edition (August 26, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307911810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307911810
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 9, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This unusual, even eccentric novel isn't composed of a continuous plot line so much as a set of conjoined stories, linked by past history but not tightly so. There is no apparent reason why the sons who are abandoned by their father in story #1 should have become how they are (their characters) and where they are (their present situations) in stories #2, #3, etc. . . . In the first story an indifferent father who turns out to be an indifferent everything, including writer, which is what he most wants to be, takes his three sons -by two mothers- to a hypnotist's show. Arthur lets himself be hypnotized and after the show ends takes the children home. He drops Martin off with his ex, takes twins Eric and Ivan home with him to his current wife, and then, while they're sleeping, cleans out his joint checking account, leaves a note for wife and sons, and disappears.

There is no trace of him for years, until books -very odd books-- start to appear under his name too critical acclaim. The first one, My Name Is No One, is an odd book indeed. It's about a man, referred to as F. (thus the title of this book), and at first reads like an old-style roman de moeurs --think Balzac or Zola. But from the start, there's something not quite right about the narrative:

[T]he reader would be enjoying the text were it not for a persistent feeling of somehow being mocked . . . there is a sense that no sentence means merely what it says, that the story is observing its own progress, and that in truth the protagonist is not the central character: the central figure is the reader, who is all to complicit in the unfolding of events.

At that point in the book, I thought: it sounds a bit like Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch (1963) with its invitation to the reader to read non-linearly.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
F by Daniel Kehlmann (translated from German by Carol Brown Janeway) opens with failed author, Arthur Freidland taking his three sons, Martin and twins Ivan and Eric, to see hypnotist The Great Lindemann. Arthur, who does not believe in hypnosis, is called to the stage where Lindemann whispers something in his ear. Instead of returning home Arthur drops off his sons and disappears from their lives along with the family savings.

The story itself follows the lives of the three boys after they grow into men. Martin, master of Rubik's Cube, joins the priesthood although he does not believe in God. Eric becomes a Jordan Belfort wannabee and faces losing all of the funds of his investors through shoddy behavior. Ivan is an artist, art commentator and fraud.

The story unfolds in six chapters all of which are an integral part of the whole but many of which can stand on their own as a solid and well written short story. Each chapter has its own theme the most interesting of which is titled "Family" and is written in the style paralleling Genesis: Chapter 5, where the lineage of the family is laid out for many generations. The only thing missing is the "begats".

This is a fascinating, well written and unconventional story. I personally think that the perfect review is written inside the book itself, chapter 2: "The sentences are well constructed, the narrative has a powerful flow, the reader would be enjoying the text were it not for a persistent feeling of somehow being mocked....But there is a sense that no sentence means merely what it says, that the story is observing its own progress, and that in truth the protagonist is not the central figure: the central figure is the reader, who is all too complicit in the unfolding of events".

This is a unique and well-constructed read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The conventional answer presumably would be "Friedland", which is the surname of the four males who dominate the novel. Arthur is a reclusive writer, whose most successful novel was "My Name Is No One". Arthur has three sons, one by his first wife, whom he abandoned, and twins by a second wife, whom he also abandoned. From time to time, he shows up unexpectedly in the lives of his family. His oldest son, Martin, is an overweight priest who is addicted to Rubik's Cube and is searching for Faith. One of the twins, Ivan, set out to be a painter, but he was not successful so he became an art forger of sorts and then a dealer and market-setter of the man whose art he forged. The other twin, Eric, became a highly successful investment advisor before succumbing to the temptations of operating a Ponzi scheme.

The novel consists of six chapters. The first is set in 1984, and in addition to introducing Arthur and his three sons it features Lindermann, a hypnotist who reappears later in the novel as an aged soothsayer. The next four chapters are narrated in the first person by a different one of the four Friedland males. The one narrated by Arthur is a genealogy of the male forebears, going back to the Middle Ages. The three chapters narrated by the sons all take place on the same fateful day -- August 8, 2008 (8/8/08 for those looking for astrological explanations, which the novel seems to invite). Each of the three sons experiences a crisis of sorts and each has a separate encounter (for one of them, a fatal encounter) involving a youth named Ron wearing a T-shirt reading "Bubbletea is not a drink I like." The last chapter, where the narrative mode reverts to third-person, takes place at a memorial mass for one of the four Friedlands.
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