Ross Benjamin & Daniel Kehlmann: When History Prefigures Our Own Times

For anyone feeling that the world has turned decidedly apocalyptic on us, Daniel Kehlmann’s picaresque novel Tyll offers an intriguing parallel from 17th century Europe. The Thirty Years War over the Holy Roman Empire left millions of Germans dead: dark times indeed for its people.

However, for Kehlmann, Tyll is more than an historical novel: it is ‘a literary experiment in trying to imagine what the world was like before the Enlightenment, what was it really like to live in a world before Voltaire, Newton and all these people.’ For Kehlmann’s translator, Ross Benjamin, expressing archaic prayers, magic spells, folk ballads, pompous court etiquette and peasant speech was 'was the greatest challenge of the book, and the most fun.'

Despite the dark subject matter and its warning signs for the present day, Tyll is a vivid, rip-roaring comic novel about a subversive prankster. Having sold 600,000 copies in Germany, its English edition is now shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Join Kehlmann and Benjamin to take a plunge back into this wonderfully-crafted and curious alternative reality as they talk to Stuart Kelly.

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