4.0 2
by Daniel Kehlmann

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F is for family. F is for fortune. F is for fraud. F is for fate.
From the internationally acclaimed author of Measuring the World, here is a dazzling tragicomedy about three brothers whose father takes on the occult and both wins and loses.
Arthur is a dilettante, a wannabe writer who decides to fill an afternoon by taking


F is for family. F is for fortune. F is for fraud. F is for fate.
From the internationally acclaimed author of Measuring the World, here is a dazzling tragicomedy about three brothers whose father takes on the occult and both wins and loses.
Arthur is a dilettante, a wannabe writer who decides to fill an afternoon by taking his three young sons to a performance by the Great Lindemann, Master of Hypnosis. While allowing one of them to be called onto the stage and made a spectacle of, Arthur declares himself to be immune to hypnosis and a disbeliever in all magic. But the Great Lindemann knows better. He gets Arthur to tell him his deepest secrets and then tells him to make them real. That night, Arthur empties the family bank account, takes his passport, and vanishes. He’s going to become a world-famous author, a master of the mystical. (F is for fake.)
But what of the boys? Martin, painfully shy, grows up to be a Catholic priest without a vocation. (F is for faith, and lack of it.) Eric becomes a financier (F is for fraud), losing touch with reality as he faces ruin, while Ivan, destined for glory as a painter, instead becomes a forger. (F is for forgery, too.) They’ve settled into their life choices, but when the summer of the global financial crisis dawns they’re thrown together again with cataclysmic results.
Wildly funny, heartbreaking, tragic, Daniel Kehlmann’s novel about truth, family, and the terrible power of fortune is a fictional triumph.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

When Arthur Friedman disappears after a successful hypnosis session, he leaves his three sons in what an earlier age would have described as existential crisis. Martin, the oldest, becomes a priest who cannot believe in God; Ivan grows into an artist forger; and Eric, his identical twin brother, is a Ponzi schemer plagued by ghostly visions. The father himself becomes the world famous author of a novel that inspires suicides. Steeped in magical realism, this novel introduces Austrian-German author Daniel Kehlmann to an American audience. Certain to receive critical notice.

Library Journal
This offbeat and entertaining novel centers on a family in Germany. Arthur, seemingly an eccentric deadbeat, is father to three sons: Martin by one woman; twins Ivan and Eric by another. Arthur takes the boys to see a performing hypnotist, and even though he is totally skeptical, Arthur ends up undergoing hypnosis on stage. After bringing the boys home, he abruptly vanishes from their lives. After his disappearance Arthur resurfaces as a successful and famous author. The novel then devotes long sections to each boy's later lives. Martin has become a priest who does not believe in God. Eric is a formerly successful financial manager who has now become a Bernie Madoff-type schemer, avoiding disgrace and bankruptcy on an hourly basis. Ivan is a talented painter who devotes himself to producing works using a deceased artist's name, and is enjoying great success with this fraud. Woven into these stories are events and conversations seen from multiple viewpoints, leading to a tragedy for one of the brothers and a surprising resurrection for another. Traces of mythology and magic occasionally surface as the sons blunder through their lives under the spell of their vanished father. VERDICT This appealing, well-written novel by Kehlmann (Measuring the World) realistically portrays the brothers' everyday lives as they occasionally stumble into shadowy and mysterious areas.—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
From the Publisher
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

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Read an Excerpt

I’ve already been hearing the sobbing for some time. At first it was a sound in my dream, but now the dream is over and the sobbing is coming from the woman next to me. Eyes closed, I know that the voice is Laura’s, or, rather, that suddenly it’s been hers all along. She’s crying so hard that the mattress is shaking. I lie there motionless. How long can I pretend I’m asleep? I would love to give up and sink back into unconsciousness, but I can’t. The day has begun. I open my eyes.
The morning sun pushes through the slats of the blind and draws fine lines in both carpet and wall. The pattern on the carpet is symmetrical, but if you look at it for a long time, it captures your attention, gripping it until you can’t shake free. Laura is lying next to me in perfect peace, breathing silently, sound asleep. I push back the blanket and get up.
As I’m groping my way down the hall, the memory of the dream returns. No doubt about it, it was my grandmother. She looked tired, worn out, and somehow not complete, as if only a portion of her soul had managed to force its way through to me. She stood in front of me, bent over, leaning on a walking stick, with two ballpoint pens sticking out of her bun. She opened and closed her mouth and made signs with her hands; she was determined to tell me something. She looked unutterably weary, lips pursed, eyes pleading, until in the next moment some change in the dream washed her away and I was somewhere else, surrounded by other things. I will never know what she wanted to tell me.
I shave, get into the shower, and turn on the hot tap. The water is warm, then hot, then very hot, which is how I like it. I tip my head back and let the water beat down on me, listen to the noise, feel the pain, and forget absolutely everything for a moment.
It doesn’t last long. Already the memory comes crashing back like a wave. Perhaps I can hold out for another couple of months, maybe even three, but not longer.
I turn off the water, get out of the shower, and push my face into the terrycloth of the bath towel. As always, my memory reacts to the smell, calling up images: Mama taking me to bed wrapped in a towel, Papa’s tall figure outlined by the ceiling light, his tousled hair in silhouette, Ivan already asleep in the other bed, our sandbox where I always knocked over the towers he built, a meadow, a worm he found that I split in half, and he cried and cried. Or was it the other way around? I put on my bathrobe. Now I need my medication.
In my study everything is normal. This calms me. The desk with its big screen, the Paul Klee on one wall and the Eulenboeck on the other, the empty files. I have never worked here. Even the drawers are empty and not one of the reference books has ever been opened. But when I sit here and pretend to be lost in thought, no one comes in, and that counts for something in and of itself.
Two Thropren, a Torbit, a Prevoxal, and a Valium—I can’t begin the day with too much, because I have to be able to up the dose if something unforeseen occurs. I swallow them all in one gulp; it’s unpleasant and I have to use all my willpower to conquer the gag reflex. Why I always take them without water, I have no idea.
Already I can feel them working. It’s probably my imagination, nothing could work that fast, but is that important? Indifference settles over me like cotton wool. Life goes on. One day you’ll lose it all, the name Eric Friedland will be abhorred, those who still trust you will curse you, your family will fall apart, and they’ll lock you up. But not today.
I’ll never be able to tell anyone how much I hate this Paul Klee. Lopsided diamonds, red on a black background, and next to them a windblown, truly pitiful little matchstick man. Even I could have painted it. I know I’m not supposed to even think such a sentence, it is utterly forbidden, but I can’t help it, even I could have painted it, it would have taken me less than five minutes! Instead of which I paid seven hundred and fifty thousand euros for it, but a man in my position must possess a very expensive painting: Janke has a Kandinsky, Nettleback of BMW has a Monet—maybe it’s a Manet, what do I know?—and old Rebke, my golf partner, has a Richard Serra on the lawn, huge, rusty, and always in the way at garden parties. So I asked Ivan two years ago to get me a picture too, it just had to be something that was a sure thing.
He immediately pretended he didn’t understand me. He likes doing that—it amuses him. What did I mean, “sure thing”?
“Sure thing,” I said, “means that it impresses everyone. That no expert has something against the artist. Like with Picasso. Or Leonardo. One of those guys.”
He laughed at me. He likes doing that too. Picasso? There were hundreds of experts who didn’t take Picasso seriously, and if you chose one of his wrong periods, you’d be criticized willy-nilly. Almost no one had a good word to say about his late work, for example! But Paul Klee, you could get one of his, no one had anything against Paul Klee.
“And Leonardo?”
“No Leonardos on the market. Take Klee.”
Then he attended the auction for me. At half a million he called me to ask if he should keep bidding. I would like to have yelled at him. But what if he thought I couldn’t even afford a matchstick man? For a while it hung in the salon, then Laura suddenly didn’t like it anymore. So since then it’s been hanging over my desk, staring at me in a pushy way and doing damage in my dreams. I can’t sell it, too many people have seen it in the salon where I have of course pointed it out to them, look at my Klee, what do you think of my Klee, yes of course it’s genuine! As soon as the investigators start work, one of their first questions will be where the Klee is. Art is a trap, nothing more, cleverly dreamed up by people like my brother!
Still in my bathrobe I go along the hall and down the stairs to the media room. There’s a screen and a video beamer. The black cubes of the speakers are powerful enough to service a football stadium. A soft leather couch sits in front of it.
The remote is lying on the table. Without thinking about it I sit down, reach for it, and press a couple of buttons. The screen hums into life: the early-morning TV programming—a nature film. A dragonfly lands on a stalk. Its legs are no bigger than a hair, its wings tremble, and its antennae touch the rough green. Interesting, but it reminds me about the camera.
There’s one hidden in one of the appliances. It would be strange if there weren’t one, because they’re so easy to conceal, I would never find it among all the lenses. I push another button, the meadow disappears, to be replaced by some undersecretary standing behind a lectern and talking so fast that you’d think everything must hang on his finishing as fast as possible.
“No,” I say. “No, no, no, no. No!”
Luckily that helps. He slows down.
But unfortunately he’s noticed me. Without stopping talking, he casts a swift glance in my direction. He did it very unobtrusively, but it didn’t escape me.
I hold my breath. I must not make a wrong move now. Without question it’s crazy, I know it, the broadcast with the undersecretary is a recording, nobody gives press conferences this early in the morning.
But I also know that he looked at me.
“Totally calm. Always keep calm.”
With cold terror I realize that I said it out loud. I can’t make this kind of mistake. And the undersecretary, whose name I suddenly recall—he’s called Obermann, Bernd Richard Obermann, and he’s responsible for power or education or something—heard it, for a mocking smile appears for a moment on his face. I don’t let anything show; I don’t lose my cool so easily. Keep calm, I say to myself again, but this time silently and without moving my lips, behave as if everything’s fine! Somehow I have to manage to look away from the screen. I concentrate on the edge of my field of vision, and then somewhat blurrily I see something on the carpet, a disturbance in the symmetry: a red wine stain. Damn it, this carpet cost thirty-five thousand euros!
My fury helps me to look away from the screen. Out of the corner of my eye I register that Undersecretary Obermann has disappeared. Some harmless man is now talking into the microphone and has no interest in me. Quickly I lift the remote, the picture flames up for a moment and is gone.

Meet 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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F: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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