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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Story of My Baldness

by
Marek van der Jagt


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

To purchase The Story of My Baldness



Title: The Story of My Baldness
Author: Marek van der Jagt
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 260 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Story of My Baldness - US
The Story of My Baldness - UK
The Story of My Baldness - Canada
The Story of My Baldness - India
L'Histoire de ma calvitie - France
Amour fou - Deutschland
  • "Marek van der Jagt" is actually Arnon Grunberg
  • Dutch title: De geschiedenis van mijn kaalheid
  • Translated by "Todd Armstrong" (i.e. Sam Garrett)
  • De geschiedenis van mijn kaalheid was awarded the Anton Wachterprijs, for best first novel -- until it was discovered that its author was actually Arnon Grunberg, who not only had written several novels previously, but had actually won the Anton Wachterprijs for his real debut several years earlier.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fairly clever, well-told tale of a young man finding himself

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/4/2002 Dorothea Dieckmann
The New Yorker . 3/1/2005 .
The Village Voice . 28/12/2004 Darren Reidy
Die Welt . 20/7/2002 Alexander von Bormann


  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Stärke dieses unspektakulär-tragikomischen Buches -- die stilistische Konsequenz, mit der das (leicht zum Gefühlskitsch tendierende) Genre des Bekenntnisses weniger ins existenziell Absurde als vielmehr ins Satirisch-Groteske getrieben wird -- ist zugleich seine Schwäche. Eine zuweilen fast beckettsche Kombination von szenischer Präzision, emotionaler Sparsamkeit und Bedeutungsabstinenz wird durch sentenziöse Selbstkommentare zugespitzt, die den Versuch einer Sinngebung seinerseits ironisch aufheben" - Dorothea Dieckmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "This whimsical novel, written pseudonymously by a Dutch novelist, masquerades as the confessions of an Austrian philosophy student whose great accomplishment is a gloss of a gloss of Hegelís Phenomenology." - The New Yorker

  • "It's weird and moving despite itself: a light-handed perpetual piss-take." - Darren Reidy, The Village Voice

  • "Es ist nicht der romantische Taugenichts, der hier erzählt, eher dessen Urvater, der spanische Lazarillo: ein gebeuteltes und doch naiv gebliebenes Ich, das allen glaubt, weil es sie für wahrer, für wirklicher hält als sich selber." - Alexander von Bormann, Die Welt

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 narrator of The Story of My Baldness is named Marek van der Jagt -- as is, ostensibly, the author of the novel. In fact, the novel was written by prolific and acclaimed young Dutch author Arnon Grunberg, perhaps taking the idea of getting into a character a bit too far.
       As it turns out, The Story of My Baldness doesn't focus too much on Marek's baldness, either. Yes, he suffers from premature and extreme hair loss, but after opening the novel with this complaint and pinpointing when it started, baldness isn't mentioned until far into the book. But it is a story of laying bare, Marek revealing himself in all his disappointing mediocrity -- and, as he explains in the end, of all the descriptions he could have used in the title:

     Of everything that is lacking, my hair is the least, and that is why that delightful word "baldness" seemed best to me.
       Marek is a student, and tutor, the youngest (and least promising) of three sons. His mother died three years earlier, when he was just eighteen, and his father has since remarried. Marek's baldness, and the story, essentially begin when he meets a woman who brings a bit of his mother back to him, and leads him to recall the past few years.
       The Story of My Baldness is presented as a novel of a quest. Marek had a fascination with "the phenomenon of l'amour fou", a sort of passion without concern for anything else. He wanted to lose himself in that head over heels way -- but couldn't ever find it. But his concept of l'amour fou proves elusive wherever he looks:
     I devoured everything I could find about l'amour fou. In translation and in the original French, with the help of dictionaries. A great deal of what had been written about it turned out to be awfully dry and boring. I found that unbelievable.
       Marek's teenage adventures on his quest are of the not unexpected sort -- though perhaps a bit more humiliating and disastrous than most ("Doesn't it get any bigger than that?" is definitely not a question one wants to hear at certain moments). Still, he manages for the most part -- helped by the fact that no one really pays all that much attention to what he does.
       The Story of My Baldness is a confessional novel: Marek bares his soul and shares what he's done. Most of it is simply embarrassing, in a childish, innocent way, but not all: by the end it's clear why Marek's tale isn't merely hair-raising, but rather more. For the most part The Story of My Baldness tells a fairly amusing slightly dysfunctional family tale: Mom sleeps around, Dad isn't entirely focussed on the matters at hand, the stepmother successfully sells her book in country after country, Marek's brothers always destined for greater success than he is. In how it's tied up it becomes a bit more, as Marek's mediocre life is seen from a new vantage point.
       There are the usual Grunberg cast of odd characters, quirky but not overblown, and there's a nice mix of incident, observation, and commentary. Everything moves along easily enough, but it's a cleverly written novel, sly and slightly disconcerting. Unusual, but worthwhile.

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Links:

The Story of My Baldness: Reviews: Arnon Grunberg: Other books by Arnon Grunberg under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Marek van der Jagt is actually Dutch author Arnon Grunberg (or Arnon Grünberg, as they call him in German). He was born in 1971 and has won numerous literary prizes.

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