The German writer Daniel Kehlmann came to the attention of American readers a few years ago with the publication in English translation of his wonderful novel Measuring the World, on the rather unlikely subject of two 19th Century German scientists, the mathematician Gauss and the explorer Humboldt. His new novel, Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes, has just been published by Pantheon. Unlike Measuring the World, it is set in the present day, and like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad it is told in separate stories (referred to as "Episodes" in the book's subtitle; I'm not sure why since in the original the word in the title translates as "Stories").
In the first story, the protagonist inexplicably starts getting calls on his cell phone directed to someone named "Ralf", who turns out to be a famous actor whose identity the protagonist plays at assuming. The next story involves a famous writer named Leo Richter and a woman who has fallen in love with him. In the course of the book Ralf actually gives up his identity, and various of Richter's characters come to life as protagonists in their own right.
Although all of this is utterly charming, Kehlmann clearly has bigger concerns in mind, concerns about the quest for identity and how one obtains and retains identity in an overly technological world. The book is a rare combination of an absolute charmer and a book with serious underpinnngs, which will delight you in reading (and rereading).
— Jeremy Nussbaum
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