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Publisher's Summary

From the internationally best-selling author of You Should Have Left, Measuring the World, and F, a transfixing retelling of the German myth of Tyll Ulenspiegel: a story about the devastation of war and a beguiling artist’s decision never to die

Daniel Kehlmann masterfully weaves the fates of many historical figures into this enchanting work of magical realism and adventure. This account of the 17th-century vagabond performer and trickster Tyll Ulenspiegel begins when he’s a scrawny boy growing up in a quiet village. When his father, a miller with a secret interest in alchemy and magic, is found out by the church, Tyll is forced to flee with the baker’s daughter, Nele. They find safety and companionship with a traveling performer, who teaches Tyll his trade. And so begins a journey of discovery and performance for Tyll, as he travels through a continent devastated by the Thirty Years’ War and encounters along the way a hangman, a fraudulent Jesuit scholar, and the exiled King Frederick and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia.

Tyll displays Kehlmann’s remarkable narrative gifts and confirms the power of art in the face of the senseless brutality of history.

Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin

©2020 Daniel Kehlmann, Ross Benjamin (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"This is a brilliant and unputdownable novel. Kehlmann is the true inheritor of the German fabulist tradition that stretches back to the Brothers Grimm and even further, and in the legendary prankster figure of Tyll Ulenspiegel he has found his perfect avatar." (Salman Rushdie)

"A rollicking historical picaresque ... Located somewhere between German romanticism and modernism, superstition and science, history and high fantasy, this is a rapturous and adventuresome novel of ideas that, like Tyll’s roaming sideshow, must be experienced to be believed.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Injecting gleeful dark humor into a setting that manages to feel both fantastically dystopian and historically grounded . . . [an] irresistible story.” (Booklist, starred review)   

What listeners say about Tyll

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Like a Tapestry

“Tyll” reminded me of those Medieval tapestries that mix historic events with a bit of legend: kings on horseback, soldiers marching, perhaps a dragon. It’s not Medieval, as the story has been moved to the 17th Century, but it has an ancient feel. It’s a tightly woven tale of a legendary prankster, Tyll Eulenspiegel. Tyll begins as a wandering performer—an actor, juggler, tightrope walker and ventriloquist. As the novel progresses, he finds himself a jester in the court of King Frederick of Bohemia and even, at one point, a coal miner during the 30 Years War. After a crushing loss in childhood, Tyll manages to outsmart those he meets, whether uneducated townspeople or self-impressed clergy or royalty. The book is frequently violent, but it can also be hopeful. It’s an absorbing a novel of a clever fellow from nowhere, using his wits to survive. The narration was very good.

12 people found this helpful

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Beautiful

I was hooked on this the start. Narrator is perfect. I loved learning about the time period, which I knew nothing about. Characters are rich, story is often at once funny and heartbreaking. Loved this book as much as anything I’ve read in years.

10 people found this helpful

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This has Pulitzer Prize written all over it

This story about a all-present, all-knowing “court jester” caught in the ravages of the Thirty Years War is a brilliant tour de force. Based loosely on historical facts, its powerful images and imaginative story make it impossible to put down. The characters —some of whom are real—come to life (and just as often killed off) in unexpected and unfamiliar circumstances. Indeed, the narrator makes sure that you cannot predict what will happen next, by a writer’s trick of changing the narrator’s voice, much as Tyll throws his voice to trick his audience into believe that the donkey is speaking.
Told in prose not seen in American novels about a subject not known to American readers, this unsentimental story of a time before the Enlightenment is a must-read.
And the audible reader is masterful in capturing the author’s —and characters’ —voices.

8 people found this helpful

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Tyll, made of air!

In Daniel Kehlmann's novel, Tyll Ulenspiegel is a legendary entertainer, renowned for his irreverence and almost superhuman skills at awing an audience. Whether performing as part of a traveling troupe or as a court jester, there's an aura about him that bewitches people of all walks of life. During Europe's devastating Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), much of the continent is plagued with ignorance, superstition and disease. This allows for a kind of magic realism to take place, which the protagonist, a survivor at heart, learns to exploit to his advantage. We spend time in the minds of a number of characters that range from the humble, to the mighty, to the farcical, winners and losers, all carrying out their destinies. In the middle of this theater of power is Tyll, who is neither a commanding scholar, nor a conqueror of nations, but an artist – a master fool.

The book was originally published in German. Firdous Bamji's narration is excellent, as he's able to cast a spell of foreboding, while also adding a note of subtle, bittersweet humor.

4 people found this helpful

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Tyll ist toll!

Tyll Ulenspiegel, this historical novel’s main protagonist, is loosely based on a legendary German prankster of the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Kehlmann sets his novel, however, during the dark years of the 30 years war in the first half of the seventeenth century. As a young man, Tyll flees his native village with his “sister” Nele and learns the skills of a traveling performer, magician, and tightrope walker. Ironically, the only real magic (in the supernatural sense) occurs when a Jesuit inquisitor—who had earlier condemned another character to die for possessing a forbidden book of magic—saves himself from a violent death by invoking a magical spell. Kehlmann’s entertaining and episodic novel, which skips back and forth chronologically, mixes the violent with the comic. Despite suffering more than one personal tragedy, Tyll himself is a survivor. Firdous Bamji’s narration is excellent.

4 people found this helpful

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A Tale Worth Reading

This is a wonderful tale of a legendary idiot/jester. Tyll. It carries you back in time as if you were there. I thought the narrator was especially well suited to this type of story. A most enjoyable listen with characters I'll long remember.

2 people found this helpful

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Delightful

A lovely book that blends fairy tales and history into an incredible tapestry. Loved the wandering timeline.

2 people found this helpful

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A gem

A vivid portrait of a little known slice of history, and one that not only survived translation to English and audio, but does credit to both.

1 person found this helpful

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Phenomenal

There are an innumerable amount of adjectives to describe this book: somber, mysterious, sinister, heartwarming, and fantastical. However, the word that comes most prominent to me is CRISP. Each sentence of this narrative is immaculately crisp. The best audiobook I have listened to in a very long time. The narrator is perfect.

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Very hard to follow, like walking on a tightrope

I wanted to like this book so much. Unfortunately, despite being very well written, I struggled to finish it. Maybe it is too dreamy for me, maybe I would need to have a little background in German mythology and the thirty years war, maybe it was something else like the back and forth in time. I really don't know. Whatever the case, it was not the book for me.

One last thing. I am reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez simultaneously (pure coincidence, I guess) and Tyll somewhat reminds me of it.