Lead Review

  • Book: Tyll
  • Location: Germany
  • Author: Daniel Kehlmann

Review Author: tripfiction



Of course I had heard of Tyll Ulenspiegel (also Till Eulenspiegel), a mythical will-o-the-wisp character who flamboyantly weaves his way through war ravaged regions, lands that we now know as Germany.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War, which started in 1618 (and of course went on for 30 years). Some of you may also be familiar with Brecht’s “Mother Courage” which is also set against a similar, starkly evoked background of the 30 Years War. Tyll certainly has a Chaucerian cast of characters, with royalty, the evil miller and the baker’s daughter all making appearances and adding colour and intrigue to the narrative.

The very late medieval setting is beautifully evoked (technically we are in the period of the Renaissance but the average inhabitant is still leading a hand-to-mouth existence in very stark circumstances). The rank smells rise from the pages, groats galore are eaten, beer is washed down and lives are lived. It is like observing a touring acting company of yore.

I read this on a recent trip to Berlin when I visited a medieval Christmas Market at RAW, Friedrichshain, where there were fire jugglers, braziers and all manner of medieval props, as we supped Glühbier (not Wein) and the notably less medieval drink of warm spiced apple juice with a shot of Amaretto (delicious in case you are wondering!). It’s a must if you are visiting the Christmas Markets in Berlin! This totally enhanced my reading of the novel! Proper literary wanderlust!

Can one call this book medieval magical realism? I am not sure, but it will appeal to those who love a bit of magic, chicanery and the appearance of the odd draconologist, all, with a good sense of story. I found it enchanting and entertaining, although it is not my go-to genre.

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