Story of My Baldness

Overview

In The Story of My Baldness, Viennese philosophy student Marek van der Jagt tells the story of his quest for l'amour fou. His tale begins in a sleazy bar, where he receives a suitcase from a mysterious, vodka-guzzling artiste. The suitcase contains clothes that belonged to his late mother. And, more importantly, it contains a clue to the first of many shameful secrets that form the backbone of The Story of My Baldness.

Along the way from this first secret to the last—the final ...

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Overview

In The Story of My Baldness, Viennese philosophy student Marek van der Jagt tells the story of his quest for l'amour fou. His tale begins in a sleazy bar, where he receives a suitcase from a mysterious, vodka-guzzling artiste. The suitcase contains clothes that belonged to his late mother. And, more importantly, it contains a clue to the first of many shameful secrets that form the backbone of The Story of My Baldness.

Along the way from this first secret to the last—the final revelation that brings the story full circle—van der Jagt leads us past a hilarious grotesque of characters: his stepmother Eleonore, author of the best-selling How Old Women Can Get Rich; Otto, the Dry Cleaning King of Vienna and the man who holds the key to Marek's past; the nubile and willing Luxemburgers Andrea and Milena, who uncover Marek's own darkest secret; Professor Hirschfeld, the collector of criminal dreams; Dr. Ahorn, the plastic surgeon without solutions; and, last but not least, Marek's own promiscuous mother, who "lived to elicit desire, the way other people live for their children, or to become millionaires..."

Marek's efforts to outdo his mother's romantic exploits are rewarded in unexpected fashion. The Story of My Baldness is fresh and funny—neurotically, claustrophobically funny. In it, van der Jagt uses Vienna the way Kafka used Prague—as the (strangely familiar) landscape where the narrator's obsessions are given free rein.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Part literary game, part grotesque coming-of-age tale, this "autobiographical novel" is likely to amuse some readers and put off others. To begin with, Van Der Jagt is a pseudonym; the book's real author is Arnon Grunberg, a prolific young Dutch author whose talent is matched-or possibly exceeded-by his desire to provoke the Dutch literary establishment. Submitted under the false name, the book won the Anton Wachter prize for a debut novel; the honor was revoked when it was discovered that Grunberg, who won the same prize for his bestseller Blue Mondays, was the author. The book's protagonist is Viennese teenager Marek, a studious type prone to dour remarks. He struggles under the burdens of an overbearing mother, a distant father and a perilously small penis ("three-quarters of a pinky, when viewed charitably and with an open mind"). Despite this, he repeatedly tries his luck with women of chronic low self-esteem. These include a middle-aged accordion player, the less pretty of two tourists from Luxembourg and the neglected mother of a boy in a wheelchair. The translation (done by Sam Garrett, Grunberg's longtime translator, working under a pseudonym) successfully renders the mix of high-brow and low-brow that comprises Marek's voice. Whether readers find the book-and the ploy-amusing will depend on their tolerance for Marek/Grunberg's archly tongue-in-cheek humor. Agent, Ira Silverberg. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Vienna's van der Jagt (a.k.a. Arnon Grunberg, Blue Mondays, 1996, etc.) spins the classic coming-of-ager and sets the table on a roar. Our narrator and life-explorer here is the 15-year-old Viennese boy named-amazing coincidence!-Marek van der Jagt. Or at least he's 15 when many of the adventures befall him that he herein regales us with: the night with two girls from Luxembourg, for example, when Marek suffers the humiliation of first and fully recognizing his "handicap" ("I have the penis of a dwarf," he announces soon after at the family dinner table, in one of many genuinely riotous moments). Marek, it seems, is in search of "l'amour fou"-even though he's not quite certain what it is. L'amour fou doesn't seem a compulsion for his two older brothers, both on their way to stolidity and wealth (though one does faint all the time), nor for his life-insurance-salesman father, either, a man of truly dour resignation who devotes Sundays to scraping the calluses on his feet. No, l'amour fou must come from Marek's mother-ah, yes! of course! his beautiful mother, the misnamed Constance, who has slept (and sleeps) with most of the men of Vienna, treats her lovers with casual scorn one moment and with the giving of the gift of gifts the next, slips out of the house at whatever hour she chooses, dressed however she likes-while dour husband Ferdinand dourly counsels his sons not to notice. Van der Jagt's dysfunctional family may be the most wondrous and most marvelously entertaining in recent memory-and one of the saddest, in its way. After all, his extraordinary, mad mother dies when Marek is just 18, under circumstances that might darken the vision of any young man, let alone that of thesensitive Marek, who, it seems, turns to the study of philosophy, though not quite leaving life behind. Van der Jagt looses the spirit of J.P. Donleavy-and more-once again upon the world. Wonderful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590511220
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 11/9/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Marek van der Jagt

Marek van der Jagt is a Viennese philosopher. His first book, The Story of My Baldness, was awarded the Anton Wachter Prize for a debut novel, until it was revealed that he had won the prize previously for Blue Mondays, written under the name of the best-selling international author Arnon Grunberg, his bitter public rival.

Dr. Todd Armstrong

Dr. Todd Armstrong has academic experience on both sides of the Atlantic and a longstanding interest in the role of memory and concepts of guilt in the literature of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. He lives and works in the eastern Netherlands.

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