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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Me and Kaminski

by
Daniel Kehlmann


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Me and Kaminski



Title: Me and Kaminski
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 174 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Me and Kaminski - US
Me and Kaminski - UK
Me and Kaminski - Canada
Ich und Kaminski - Deutschland
Moi et Kaminski - France
  • German title: Ich und Kaminski
  • Translated by Carol Brown Janeway

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Our Assessment:

B : wry tale

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 1/11/2008 Andrew Motion
The Independent . 31/10/2008 Boyd Tonkin
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/3/2003 Beatrix Langner
Neues Deutschland . 19/3/2003 Fritz Rudolf Fries
New Statesman A- 27/11/2008 Katy Taylor
The Observer . 14/12/2008 Phillip Oltermann
Die Presse . 15/3/2003 Susanne Schaber
San Francisco Chronicle . 1/12/2008 Kim Schmidt
Der Spiegel A (11/2003) Volker Hage
Der Standard . 1/3/2003 Klaus Zeyringer
Sunday Times . 14/12/2008 Tom Deveson
The Telegraph . 24/10/2008 Jake Kerridge
Die Welt A 12/4/2003 Ulrich Weinzierl
Die Zeit . (13/2003) Andreas Nentwich


  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but generally very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's a bleak conclusion -- but, in the steely comedy of Kehlmann's narrative, one that feels cathartic almost to the extent of seeming delightful." - Andrew Motion, The Guardian

  • "Me and Kaminski begins to grip only when it turns off from the obvious route. (...) Neither does the smart-art satire really fly. The collectors and experts come cut from far too broad a cloth. And the gallery debacle has sketch-show sauce, but sketch-show crudity as well. Where Kehlmann really deepens his palette is with the portrait of Kaminski himself." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Daniel Kehlmann erzählt diese Geschichte in der ersten Person, aus der Perspektive des jungen Mannes. Das ermöglicht seinem Roman eine grossartige Tiefenschärfe. Die Oberfläche aber, die Sprache ist von polierter Härte; sie desavouiert den Erzähler, ohne dass sie ihn denunzieren muss. (...) Ich und Kaminski ist ein streng symmetrisch um das Spiegelmotiv angelegter Hypertext über Mythen und Diskurse der Kunst und ihrer Akteure. (...) Der ästhetische Reiz liegt auf der Hand: intelligentes Vergnügen." - Beatrix Langner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(E)ine Zeitsatire. Es ist das Missverhältnis zwischen Kreativität und feuilletonistischer Ausbeutung. (...) Ich und Kaminski ist, Kehlmanns Leser haben es nicht anders erwartet, ein großartiger, vielleicht des Autors bislang bester Roman." - Fritz Rudolf Fries, Neues Deutschland

  • "Me and Kaminski is an accessible and humorous road trip into the worlds of art and journalism, satirising both. Although some may find it a little predictable, the novel makes some good philosophical points along the way. It is fun, fast and thoroughly enjoyable." - Katy Taylor, New Statesman

  • "Ultimately, what unites Zöllner's disastrous attempt at a biography and Kaminski's increasingly sketchy paintings is the fear that the things that matter in life will forever remain on the periphery of our attention. In that sense, Me and Kaminski is a philosophical book, though less obviously a novel of ideas than Measuring the World: a self-disguising work of genius, rather than a self-proclaimed one." - Phillip Oltermann, The Observer

  • "Doch so sehr er auch zubeißt, zurück bleiben ein paar Kratzer, mehr nicht. Kehlmann ist ein intelligenter, gewandter Erzähler, der seine Mittel stilsicher in Szene setzt. Sein Buch präsentiert eine Reihe unterhaltsamer, mitunter auch hinterlistiger Einfälle, aufgefädelt auf einer blitzenden Kette, zusammengehalten von einer prächtigen Schließe. (...) Man freut sich noch kurz drüber, schaut wieder weg. Das war's dann." - Susanne Schaber, Die Presse

  • "At times, Kehlmann's symbolism is overly transparent (i.e., Kaminski's macular degeneration as an ironic symbol of his ultimately revealed insight), and the novel doesn't nearly live up to the publisher's claims as "wickedly funny" or "uproarious." Still, Kehlmann's critique of celebrity, of fame and of the ugliness of self-promotion holds strong. In the end, Me and Kaminski is Kehlmann's comment on where art, fame and truth intersect." - Kim Schmidt, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Die Fahrt mit Kaminski gerät zur erzählerischen Bravournummer. Was immer Kaminski von sich preisgibt, bringt nur neue Verwirrung. Und als er schließlich noch einen Fremden auf einem Rastplatz ins Auto bittet, der vom Rücksitz kommentiert, bekommt das ganze fast Becketthafte Züge. Aber Kehlmann weiß selbst das zu dosieren: Er ist ein souveräner Erzähler, sicher im Ton, mit festem Griff für den Lauf der Geschichte." - Volker Hage, Der Spiegel

  • "Kehlmann develops the story with clever, controlled indirection. There are fragments of apparently vital letters that may or may not have been read or understood; old people divulge contradictory memories. The story moves easily, but with an increasing sense of pressure" - Tom Deveson, Sunday Times

  • "It is over a century since George Gissing described the whole business of biography as "a farce". That is the view Kehlmann takes, not only in the sense that the biography industry is trivial and contemptible, but also that it is so absurd as to be a source of entertainment. Hence this sparkling and consistently amusing comedy, by turns broad and sophisticated." - Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

  • "Der armselige, unheilige Sebastian -- ein betrogener Betrüger und Märtyrer seines Ehrgeizes -- tut uns zum Schluss fast leid. Auch das ist eine Qualität des schmalen, ebenso klugen wie unterhaltsamen Romans. Weit beeindruckender scheint indes das ästhetische Raffinement, nicht zuletzt der motivischen Feinarbeit." - Ulrich Weinzierl, Die Welt

  • "Ich und Kaminski ist eine beißende Kulturbetriebs-Satire, fröhlich mit heißer Nadel gestrickt und von einem Realismus, wie er unrealistischer nicht sein könnte. (...) So ansteckend lustvoll und hinreißend unglaubwürdig wie Kehlmann in Ich und Kaminski strapaziert die trivialen Genres nur, wer sie um Haupteslänge überragt." - Andreas Nentwich, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The "I" (or rather, the "ich") in Ich und Kaminski is the narrator, Sebastian Zöllner, a thirty-one year-old art critic. He's ambitious but not really successful, and now he's pinning his hopes on writing the biography of Manuel Kaminski, a painter of some renown whom he chose as his subject over Balthus (who inconveniently died too early) and Lucian Freud (reportedly in talks with a Hans Bahring to be his biographer).
       The novel begins with Zöllner's trek to Kaminski's home. He has arranged to interview the master, and sets out for the distant, isolated home of the painter, a journey involving several trains -- and undue complications. Zöllner isn't a pleasant fellow, easily irritated by those around him. In one train a man sitting opposite him is reading a book on Picasso by the detested rival Hans Bahring -- which make Zöllner feels he's being mocked: Bahring is pretty much everything that Zöllner wants to be (and a figure that will come to haunt him later in the book as well), though for now Zöllner can exact easy revenge, as he is writing a devastating review of Bahring's latest book.
       Reaching his destination before he is expected, Zöllner imposes himself on the Kaminski-household: protective daughter Miriam, housekeeper Anna (who at least can be bought off), and -- at least initially -- a group of Kaminski's friends. The old master himself is practically blind -- though it's long been unclear exactly how poor his vision is -- and the easiest to deal with.
       Going through his notes before his second attack on the house, Zöllner's interviews with those who knew the master are played out, in part, revealing the main details (and mysteries) about the painter's life. Zöllner is revealed as a man without any firm convictions, or much understanding of art (he did study art history for a year, but without much interest or success) or even his subject, leaving him spectacularly ill-equipped to write such a biography -- but then the difficulty of writing biography (or autobiography), or even understanding another's life is one of this novel's bigger themes. All Zöllner is concerned with is the Kaminski name, which should suffice to get sell the book. And Zöllner does make at least one good discovery: that Kaminski's long-lost love, Therese, didn't die (as the painter had been led to believe she had).
       Zöllner is willing to do anything he has to for success, and, with a sense of ethics poor even for a journalist, ransacks the Kaminski house (finding only a few documents of interest), sends away Manuel's doctor, and spirits off the famous painter to be reunited with his old flame -- which he anticipates might be the big, dramatic scene that makes his book.
       Everything Zöllner does is a reminder of his sorry life. Everyone also treats him like the sad sack that he is -- Manuel doing so particularly cleverly, while others, including his girlfriend, are more straightforward. Zöllner is desperate, and everyone takes advantage. Only in the final scenes, where everything comes to a head -- and, for Zöllner, essentially all is lost --, can he in any way redeem himself.

       Zöllner is the novel's biggest weakness. He is a thoroughly unpleasant fellow, with too little patience and too high expectations (always shocked that practically nobody knows who Kaminski is) and probably without the talent to ever really accomplish anything (at least that's the impression one gets from how he goes about undertaking this biography-project). Kehlmann obviously presents him this way on purpose, but that doesn't make the character an easier one to take. It is a difficult weakness to overcome, and an unfortunate one. Kehlmann makes some good points with this dense, hapless fellow, but he is almost too pathetic to believe.
       Kaminski is nicely presented, and the old painter an intriguing and sympathetic figure. The women are also well-drawn, including Kaminski's daughter and Zöllner's former girlfriend, Elke. Also a nice presence is the invisible and yet inescapable Zöllner-rival Hans Bahring
       The action also moves a bit too fast: much of this might have worked better if the material were more fleshed out -- though a few scenes do unfold well in this quick, slightly blurred presentation (mirroring Zöllner's own inability to remain in control or on top of things). Ich und Kaminski is an entertaining and ultimately poignant ride -- half road-trip novel, half send-up of the art scene (which is almost too easy a target in Kehlmann's broad attack), and all the while a meditation on art, memory, and identity. Were it not for the simply too unsympathetic Zöllner it might be more amusing, but it does offer good --and occasionally thoughtful -- fun as is.

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Links:

Me and Kaminski: Reviews: Daniel Kehlmann: Other books by Daniel Kehlmann under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975. He lives in Vienna, where he studied philosophy and literature. He has published several works of fiction.

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© 2003-2014 the complete review

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