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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Mahlers Zeit

by
Daniel Kehlmann


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

To purchase Mahlers Zeit



Title: Mahlers Zeit
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 160 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Mahlers Zeit
Il tempo di Mahler - Italia
  • Mahlers Zeit has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting attempt at refuting time

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/11/1999 Martin Halter
Neue Zürcher Zeitung A 12/10/1999 Andreas Nentwich
Der Spiegel . 11/10/1999 Nikolaus v. Festenberg
Der Spiegel . 26/9/2000 Daniel-Dylan Böhmer
Der Standard A- 13/11/1999 Klaus Zeyringer
Der Tagesspiegel . 19/2/2000 Thomas Schaefer
Wiener Zeitung B+ 19/11/1999 Vladimir Vertlib

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Darstellung eines physikalisch-philosophischen Problems stößt im Roman schnell an sprachliche Grenzen. Der Erzähler bleibt im poetisch Ungefähren; entweder gibt sich seine Physik rasch als Metaphysik zu erkennen, oder sie bleibt literarisch spröde. (...) Dabei ist Kehlmann ehrgeizig genug, den "Riss in der Unausweichlichkeit" und eine aus den Fugen geratene Zeit in der Erzählstruktur seines Romans abbilden zu wollen" - Martin Halter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Mahlers Zeit (...) ist das Werk eines fertigen Schriftstellers, der souverän den sanften Schrecken kalkuliert, in fremde Psychen schlüpft, aus Wolkenspiel, Taubenflug und Strassenszenen, dem Goldton um den Haarflaum eines Mädchenarms, aus Farben, Lichtern, Zeichen und Wundern magische Bilder destilliert." - Andreas Nentwich, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Unter den vielen merkwürdigen Helden der neueren deutschen Literaturgeschichte ist David Mahler einer der sonderbarsten." - Nikolaus von Festenberg, Der Spiegel

  • "Trocken könnte das Buch werden, verwirrend andererseits, gewollt in jedem Fall. Tatsächlich ist es nichts von alledem. Das liegt vor allem an Kehlmanns äußerst präziser Sprache, deren Genauigkeit und gleichzeitige Subjektivität den Fluss der Erzählung in einem seltsam schwebenden Gleichgewicht halten." - Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, Der Spiegel

  • "Daniel Kehlmann hat zwar in zwei, drei Passagen ein wenig zu deutlich auf kalkulierte Spannung hingearbeitet. Er hat aber einen bis in die Details gut abgestimmten Roman geschrieben: Der stilsichere Rhythmus und die packende Geschichte vermögen einen Lektürensog in Mahlers Zeit zu bewirken." - Klaus Zeyringer, Der Standard

  • "Souverän beherrscht er Dramaturgie, Dialogregie und Figurenzeichnung -- zweifellos ein Autor, der seinen Weg gehen wird. Und der doch am Anfang steht: weil er der Verführung erliegt, durch den inflationären Gebrauch von Metaphern eine Atmosphäre von Magie erzeugen zu wollen. (...) Es ist die diffuse Metaphysik, an der der Roman scheitert." - Thomas Schaefer, Der Tagesspiegel

  • "Daniel Kehlmanns Roman besticht vor allem durch die raffinierte Verknüpfung der Handlung mit naturwissenschaftlichen und philosophischen Überlegungen, durch seine klare Sprache und die Lebendigkeit der Dialoge. Leider nimmt die erschöpfende Beschreibung nebensächlicher Ereignisse -- so gelungen sie im Einzelnen auch sein mögen -- dem Roman viel an Spannung, Dynamik und Geschlossenheit." - Vladimir Vertlib, Wiener Zeitung

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:

       David Mahler is a physicist who, in a flash of inspiration, discovers the secret to that most mysterious of entities, time. Four equations, a few explanations, and there's the proof that time is not quite what we always believed. Kehlmann's novel arcs from Mahler's moment of discovery to the perhaps inevitable conclusion. Along the way most of the time is spent following Mahler as he tries to convince others of what he has found.
       Mahler messengers a copy (the only copy, in a maddeningly simplistic novelistic turn of the type that should have been outlawed centuries ago) to the physicist he most admires, Nobel laureate Boris Valentinov. Later, he seeks out the elusive man himself. Throughout he is driven by a sense of urgency -- caused, in part, by the mysterious circumstances around him. It seems that someone -- or something -- does not want his discovery to be known.
       Kehlmann plays with the notion of time, evoking it in the form of his narrative as well as its content, occasionally to good effect. He also manages to convey the character of Mahler himself well, reliving much of the physicist's life in a sort of flashback. The mathematically gifted youngster who chooses to stay in the background, who does not want a place on the international scientific stage (until it is no longer his to have), is a convincing and interesting character. Parts are exaggerated -- the sister, tragically killed in a bizarre accident, who haunts Mahler's dreams, for example -- but overall the trancelike, non-linear feeling of (literary-)space-without-time is decently done. The world Kehlmann shows glimpses of is timeless, organized, and, most importantly: endless, i.e. deathless. It also, ultimately, does not allow itself to be captured or understood.
       The science in the novel is a bit more muddy. There is lots of harping on entropy, as the basis of our conception of time. Kehlmann makes a half-hearted stab at explaining the concept of everything tending towards disorder (so beautifully conveyed by the German word Wärmetod), but it is not a precise or ultimately useful one (see digression below). Nevertheless, the idea is presented decently enough that belief and common-sense can be suspended for the duration of the novel (though, of course, "duration" takes on a whole new meaning here as well ...).
       Kehlmann writes fairly well, and while some of the occurrences are too artificial and dreamlike to convince (and the plot just a bit too simple and pat), it is an enjoyable quick read. Kehlmann has talents, and he has written a decent book here. The best parts are the least ambitious ones, as Kehlmann describes unambitious Mahler growing up. Taking on entropy then is biting off considerably more than anyone should chew, but on the whole Mahlers Zeit is a good effort


        To digress briefly regarding entropy, addressing only one of the many examples in the book: Kehlmann states that an ordered deck of cards is "less likely" than a mixed deck ("Ein gelegtes Paket Spielkarten (nach Farben zum Beispiel (...)) ... ist unwarscheinlicher als ein durchmischtes.") -- a misleading (but typical) description. What we see as order and disorder in a deck of cards has little to with the true underlying order of the deck: any single combination of the 52 cards is equally unlikely, meaning also that any single "mixed" deck of cards is, in fact, exactly as unlikely as any single set of cards ordered by, say, suit and value. Kehlmann is talking about two different kinds of "order" here -- a probabilistic mix-and-match that just confuses the true issue. One "order" is more apparent to the human eye than the other since all the "mixed" decks appear the same to us -- but, in fact, each mixed deck is as different from each other mixed one as it is from a perfectly ordered set. Decks of cards do tend towards disorder (through shuffling (leaving aside the problems inherent in shuffling, which, in fact, add yet more complications to the issue)), but "order" and "disorder" must be carefully defined for that to be a meaningful statement.

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Links:

Mahlers Zeit: 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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