Sebastian Zollner's failure as a journalist is matched only by his personal failures: his girlfriend is moving a new lover in before Sebastian even knows he's been dumped. Searching for the break that will redeem him in the eyes of his peers, he heads off on a wild-goose chase into the mountains to interview the eccentric, legendary painter Manuel Kaminski with the hope of writing his biography. Kaminski is going blind and is living in seclusion with his daughter. He could be working on his next masterpiece or easing into his final days, and his inconsistent career raises the question of whether he has been a fraud or a genius.
His artistic reputation hinges on any number of factors, but most prominently on a definitive biography. Enter Zollner - who has no intention of writing a puff piece. He's out to dig dirt and to force Kaminski to confront the legacy of his work. But the secrets he uncovers will lead Kaminski, and Zollner himself, to places neither of them ever expected to go.
With edgy wit and intelligence, Kehlmann dives into the question of what is "truth" in our celebrity-crazed times and embraces the energy and humanity that lie beneath the pretensions of the art and journalistic worlds.
Anyone who likes the narratives of Iris Murdoch will probably find much to enjoy here. At the center of the narrative is a reclusive, elderly mystery figure who after having once reached a pinnacle of fame and cultural notoriety has disappeared into anonomous obscurity. His isolation is invaded by an ambitious and amusingly arrogant young journalist hoping to make a career coup by filling out the untold biography. Kehlmann beautifully handles a long and wonderful senex-puer joke, a sort of picaresque novel in reverse, in which astonishing vitality erupts from what seemed an enfeebled old age. It is well read and provided this listener with many smiles.