September 20, 2010 / 4:44 PM / in 7 years

German author tackles identity, celebrity in "Fame"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Authors may not enjoy the level of celebrity as other artists, but that hasn’t stopped German literary sensation Daniel Kehlmann from wryly reflecting on fame and how it changes people in his new novel.

Kehlmann, who has been praised by critics and literary titans such as Jonathan Franzen, humorously reflects on the perils and quirks of fame and those who mix with celebrities in his book, “Fame,” just been published in the United States.

Credited with infusing humor and vigor into contemporary German literature, his new book was partly derived from his early brush with success stemming from his 2005 book, “Measuring The World,” about the 19th-century scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Translated into more than 40 languages, it sold more than a million copies in Germany alone and made him a fresh faced, literary star in Germany and parts of Europe.

“It did concern me at that moment because the book was such a success,” the youthful 35-year-old told Reuters in an interview, about how he dealt with his own recognition.

But while he might have become a literary star, he said, “Thank god, you never reach the level of fame and success that even a modestly successful actor does.”

In “Fame”, a short novel of nine intersecting stories and with numerous connected characters, the Munich-born author admitted one character -- a neurotic author who is constantly asked where his ideas come from -- is “half-autobiographical.”

But rather than snub fame -- growing up he was used to it after his father, a television director, knew many well-known German actors -- he was more burdened by expectation.

“The one thing I did find difficult was to deal with the situation as a writer when you know so many people are waiting for your next book,” he said. “I found myself very intimidated by that. The liberating thing was to do something as much different from the bestselling novel as possible.”

“Fame” has been well received in Europe. And in America, Franzen praised it, noting, “Modern fame may have been invented in America, but nobody has dramatized the paradoxes and heartbreaks more entertainingly than ... Kehlmann does here.”

Kehlmann said he would also like his books to be read in America, where he admires authors such as Philip Roth, but noted on the topic of celebrity that America is more rooted in it compared to Europe where there is still a “certain irony toward this kind of celebrity phenomenon.”

Kehlmann says other themes in his book address “modern communications and identity,” with constant references to mobile phones and Wikipedia and how that affects social lives.

While lauding some of the benefits of e-mail, Kehlmann said he finds changing technology “rather disturbing.”

“I wanted to write about mobile phones and e-mail, what they do do our lives, what they do to us,” he said.

Like his characters who are constantly taking calls, texting and staring at their mobile devices, Kehlmann admits to being more distracted as a result of modern communications.

“We have more problems concentrating than we had 10 years ago. I certainly do,” he said.

editing by Mark Egan

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