cover image Fame


Daniel Kehlmann, trans. from the German by Carol Brown Janeway, Pantheon, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-0-307-37871-2

In this brilliant study of the fragility and interconnectedness of life, Kehlmann (Measuring the World) probes issues of identity in nine overlapping narratives, with each pivoting on a moment where a commonplace event becomes a crack and then a flood gate for existential horror. It begins as computer technician Ebling buys a cellphone, only to discover the number he is assigned belongs to movie star Ralf Tanner; at first resistant, Ebling is soon making decisions that alter Ralf's life. Later, after his phone has abruptly stopped ringing, Ralf finds his life taken over by an impersonator. Meanwhile, the telecommunications executive whose negligence led to the phone number switch cracks from the pressures of having an affair. In a parallel plot, Elisabeth, a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders, keeps her work secret from her famous boyfriend, the writer Leo Richter, out of fear he will steal her experiences for future adventures of his most popular character. Layers of connection, irony, despair, and humor distinguish this masterful work and announce Kehlman as a worthy heir to Bowles and Camus. (Sept.)