Review: F by Daniel Kehlmann by Daniel Kehlmann; translated by Carol Brown Janeway (Pantheon, 272 pages)

"F is for family. F is for fortune. F is for fraud. F is for fate."

And F, my friends, is for FREAKIN' FANTASTIC.

I had never read Daniel Kehlmann before, so I came to F with no preconceived notions or expectations. But I was richly rewarded. It is a strange book, with a narrative that always keeps you slightly off-balance. Each of the sections are told from a different perspective (Arthur Friedland, his three sons, and a mix of voices at the end), and by the time you read a few sections, you realize that you've "witnessed" the same important scene several times already.

That last point it particularly important for this novel because Martin, the oldest son, is a champion Rubik's Cube player. Just as he manipulates the various sides and colors of the cube, so Kehlmann manipulates our perspectives on a single scene, offering it to us in a variety of ways as if giving us a kind of omniscience.

F is the story of one man's actions and the consequences for the next generations of his family. When Arthur Friedland takes his three young sons to a hypnotist's show one afternoon, he doesn't expect to become the main attraction. Nevertheless, the hypnotist calls him up on stage and leads him to admit that he really wants to be a famous writer, not the detached father and husband who writes things that never get published.

When Arthur drops the boys off at Martin's mother's house (the other two boys have a different mother), he disappears from their lives, emerging years later as a successful author. We subsequently learn what Martin, Eric, and Ivan have done with their lives: the first became a priest, despite not believing in God; the second became a financier mired in fraud and potential scandal; while the third grew up to be an art dealer specializing in the provenance of forged paintings (well, not really forged- it's complicated).

In each section, Arthur puts in a brief appearance, generally acting like his usual cryptic, detached self. 

In F, we are asked to think about how one generation influences the next, and how despite the very different paths we take from one another as we age, we can never truly escape the bonds of family.

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