How do you tell a fool

Daniel Kehlmann's new novel - The Fool Tells the Truth of War

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"Measuring the World"-author Daniel Kehlmann has written a new novel. In “Tyll” he portrays the Thirty Years' War through the eyes of the scoundrel Till Eulenspiegel: an epoch panorama that shakes you up.

«A year later the war came to us. Old Luise, who slept soundly and this time had no premonition, died in her bed. The pastor died when he stood protectively in front of the church portal. Lise Schoch died trying to hide gold coins. "

In his latest novel "Tyll", Daniel Kehlmann describes in sober, laconic language the time of the Thirty Years' War in the first half of the 17th century - the never-ending, insane killing and murder.

"The baker and the blacksmith and old Lembke and Moritz Blatt and most of the other men died trying to protect their wives, and women died like women die in war."

Eccentric main character

Daniel Kehlmann would not be Daniel Kehlmann if he did not tell the historical events using a figure that does not correspond at all to the general average. His world bestseller “Measuring the World” from 2005 about the two outstanding scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss is still fondly remembered.

This time Daniel Kehlmann uses the mysterious and eccentric juggler Till Eulenspiegel, or as he is called in the novel with a low German appeal: Tyll Ulenspiegel.

The archetypal figure of the enigmatic minstrel, juggler and acrobat, who listens neither to secular nor to ecclesiastical authorities and who holds freedom above everything, originally dates from the late Middle Ages. Since then there has been a whole series of literary implementations, more recent ones by Erich Kästner or Christa Wolf.

New historical environment

Daniel Kehlmann's novel transports his Tyll Ulenspiegel to the time of the Thirty Years' War. He uses the figure to emphasize the absurdity of war: only in the unclouded gaze of the fool, who is committed to nothing but art, does the horror in all its monstrosity really become visible.

However, the novel is far more than an anti-war novel. Rather, it is a delicate painting from that time 400 years ago, which is based on historical facts, but leaves a lot of space for fiction.

For example, in the imaginative portrayal of Tyll's childhood, the bitter poverty in which children had to grow up becomes visible. Or the witch craze at the time: Tyll's fictional father falls victim to him.

Tissue of a bygone era

The passage where the author describes Tyll's appearance at a fair is delicious: The rogue demands of his audience that everyone should take off their shoes and throw them in the air. People do as they are told.

As a result, however, a huge mess emerges: You can no longer find your shoes. Crowds, curses, bloody noses, chaos ... With this action Tyll impressively rubbed his audience into the fact that life is going through life far too gullible.

Later in the novel, the author lets his Tyll meet the diverse characters - simple peasants and artisans as well as scholars, priests and nobles. This book tells of all of them who stand for their time in their own way: It interweaves them into a whole - and thereby breathes new life into an epoch long past.

Broadcast: Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur-Aktuell, 11.10.2017, 7.20 a.m.

Daniel Kehlmann

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Book reference

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Daniel Kehlmann: "Tyll". Rowohlt, 2017.

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