When All the World’s at War

“Art need not be brilliant to be vital. “Tyll” revels in the efforts of second-rate artists doing their best with small talent: a bard whose “poor singing would not be so bad if he could at least play the lute,” a monotonous old woman who can remember long stories without forgetting a line, a count who fills out his memoir with descriptions from other books. Through them, Kehlmann irreverently imagines the birth of modern German literature, as a series of would-be poets struggle to draw beauty out of “a language that sounded like someone struggling not to choke, like a cow having a coughing fit, like a man with beer coming out his nose.””

The New York Times, February 2020