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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The King of China

Tilman Rammstedt

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To purchase The King of China

Title: The King of China
Author: Tilman Rammstedt
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The King of China - US
The King of China - UK
The King of China - Canada
The King of China - India
Der Kaiser von China - Deutschland
L'imperatore della Cina - Italia
Un cuento chino - España

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable bit of (unusual) escapism

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A+ 27/10/2008 Oliver Jungen
NZZ . 7/4/2009 Samuel Moser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tilman Rammstedts Roman ist ein Tempel, ein Affenzirkus, eine Liebeserklärung an die Phantasie, weil die Phantasie eine Liebeserklärung an das Leben ist. Der Kaiser von China ist ein Buch, das uns die richtige Station verpassen lässt, die richtige Bahn, die richtige Stadt, alles scheinbar Richtige, den Schlaf, den Einkauf, das Kino-Rendezvous, die Deadline; ein Roman, aus dem wir nicht aussteigen können, nicht bei diesem Tempo, der uns hochreißt, mitreißt, wegreißt, weit fort, und der uns erschüttert" - Oliver Jungen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Das ist der sentimentale Charme und der melancholische Schmelz dieses Romans: Er lügt, indem er zeigt, dass er lügt. Er lügt wahrhaftig. Zu seinen Stärken gehört zweifellos auch das verführerisch rasante Erzählen nach vorn, das Erzählen um des Erzählens willen. (...) Irgendeinmal aber wird man sich die Augen reiben. Das Raffinement des Romans erscheint einem dann als pures Arrangement und seine rhetorische Brillanz als Redseligkeit." - Samuel Moser, Neue Zürcher 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:

       The King of China opens with narrator Keith Stapperpfennig still cowering under his desk, as he has spent the past ten days ducked low so that no one peering in through the window realizes he's there -- and not in China, where his family believes him to be sightseeing with their grandfather. Keeping that ruse up becomes slightly more challenging when he returns a phone call and learns that his grandfather is in fact now dead, and he is asked to come identify the body.
       Keith was the one his grandfather paid most attention to -- explaining to Keith's siblings when they were young that he: "didn't have the energy to devote himself to all of us equally, so he had decided to concentrate on taking care of me to avoid being left with a collection of mediocre individuals in the end". This does not look like it was a winning bet: Keith's older siblings seem to have done okay (and a younger sister is still studying), but Keith himself seems not to have advanced very far -- "the world's most prolific procrastinator", his girlfriend, Franziska, calls him.
       Before hooking up with Keith, Franziska was the grandfather's girlfriend, which is a bit awkward. But Keith is used to managing awkward. So too his fictitious trip with his grandfather to China: originally meant to be a real trip -- a gift from the family for the old man, before he couldn't travel any longer, with Keith the one assigned to tag along -- it proves unworkable (thanks, largely, to Keith), but Keith nevertheless decides to pretend to go through with it (in part also to escape Franziska, to whom he's also made promises he's not sure he can keep).
       The novel alternates between Keith's account of his situation (and how he got himself into it) and letters he pretends to write to his family from China. It's an amusing idea, and Rammstedt spins the absurdity out quite well, the two central figures, Keith and his grandfather, real 'characters' and thus good for entertainingly odd situations. The grandfather is something of a lady's man -- though he usually can't or doesn't want to hang on to his conquests too long -- and his wilful ways allow Keith to imagine quite the Chinese adventures. And, despite all his bumbling, Keith does know how to seize on opportunity -- though he's not always sure about where it leads him.
       Keith notes that when he was a child his grandfather had responded in an argument of presumably outlandish claims: "Oh yeah ? And I'm the King of China" (a German expression (well, in German it's Kaiser -- 'emperor' -- not 'king') denoting grandiose impossibility). Literal-minded young Keith had apparently, at least briefly, taken his grandfather at his word -- going around telling everyone he and his family were Chinese. Now, as a (would-be) adult, the misunderstandings aren't quite as blatant, and yet Keith has difficulty staying grounded in the reality of those around him. He also has trouble facing (his) day-to-day reality, preferring to hide under his desk for two weeks, for example, than dealing with Franziska or his family. Still, it's a nice alternative adventure he imagines for his grandfather and himself -- and he manages to extricate himself from the corner he seems trapped in reasonably well (if not entirely honestly). (There's even a payoff for him carrying the unusual name 'Keith Stapperpfennig'.)
       The King of China is a story of escapism, its two main characters never really comfortable with the normal course of life (though here veering off it rather extremely -- with the grandfather's escape the ... ultimate one). And besides their entertainment value, Keith's letters (and actions) are also a touching (if also self-serving) tribute to his grandfather.
       All in all: good fun, and quite well done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 November 2013

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The King of China: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       German author Tilman Rammstedt was born in 1975.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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