Author(s): Daniel Kehlmann
Sebastian Zollner, an underachieving art critic, has pinned his hopes of advancement on writing the biography of the artist Manuel Kaminski, a forgotten former pupil of Matisse, now an ailing recluse. Inept, charmless, and with scant knowledge of art history, Zollner is hardly the man to rediscover a lost genius of 20th-century painting. But he has made one crucial discovery about his subject: that Kaminski's long-lost love, Therese, is still living, contrary to what the artist himself has been led to believe. On his arrival at Kaminski's isolated Alpine home, Zollner imposes himself crudely on the household, alienating the artist's protective daughter, Miriam. His efforts to unlock the secrets of Kaminski's life lead him to embark on a series of increasingly desperate measures. Having bribed the housekeeper to absent herself, he ransacks the house in search of revealing documents (he finds little of interest), then dismisses the frail Kaminski's doctor, and spirits the old man away in his daughter's Mercedes for a grand reunion with his old flame. From here on events spiral rapidly out of control.