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Booker International Longlist 2020: Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann


Book 5 from the longlist and once again we are relying on super reader Tracy for the review. I did plan to read this but I am 5th in the library queue so unlikely to arrive in time.

Details from the Booker Website: He’s a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake’s like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he’s watching you now and he’s gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He’s practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam. When he comes out, he will never be the same. Tyll will escape the ordinary villages. In the mines he will defy death. On the battlefield he will run faster than cannonballs. In the courts he will trick the heads of state. As a travelling entertainer, his journey will take him across the land and into the heart of a never-ending war. A prince’s doomed acceptance of the Bohemian throne has European armies lurching brutally for dominion and now the Winter King casts a sunless pall. Between the quests of fat counts, witch-hunters and scheming queens, Tyll dances his mocking fugue; exposing the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools.
With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time.

Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975 and lives in Vienna, Berlin and New York. His works include Measuring the World, Me & Kaminski and Fame, and have won numerous prizes, including the Candide Prize, the Literature Prize of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Doderer Prize, The Kleist Prize, the WELT Literature Prize, and the Thomas Mann Prize. Measuring the World was translated into more than 40 languages and is one of the biggest successes in post-war German literature. His books regularly become bestsellers in Germany: Tyll spent a year on the German bestseller lists, selling over 400,000 hardback copies.


Ross Benjamin is a prizewinning translator and writes literary criticism for The Times Literary Supplement, among other publications. He was a Fulbright Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow and graduated from Vassar college. He lives in New York.​

Tracy’s Thoughts: Tyll is based on Middle/Low German folklore and the character of Tyl Ulenspiegel, a prankster from the 14th century. In this story, he is around later, during the time just after Shakespeare and during the Thirty Years’ War.

Kehlman’s writing is picaresque and engaging, like I imagine the original folklore was, but also dark, due to its time and place. It is written from the point of view of multiple characters, from very different backgrounds, and their experiences with Tyll, with the war and times always in the background. Characters are well developed, and the plot jumps around, but I didn’t mind. The voices were distinct enough that I could follow even when listening to the audiobook.

Again, I found myself researching the history and Ulenspiegel. In the process, I added several books to my ever growing TBR mountain. Again.

So far, this has been my favorite from the list, and may make my top ten favorites for the year.

Writing: 5/5
Originality: 4.5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot: 3.5/5
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Tyll 19/20
The Eighth Life 18.5
Memory Police 15.5
Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17
Mac and his Problem 12.5

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