I have always been of the opinion events in history are best served when the static skeleton of reported facts, is adorned with flesh and given motion through the singular power of fiction. In the case of The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny my conviction is emphatically reinforced. Based upon the life of famous 19th century explorer John Franklin, Nadolny portrays over fifty years of history. Credited with finding the Northwest Passage Franklin’s remarkable determination for discovery encompasses naval battles, shipwrecks and starvation in the Arctic. Opening in the village of Spilsby, Lincolnshire, Nadolny introduces the early years of John Franklin’s life. A painstakingly slow and rather awkward boy, he is given more to a mental reflection of the world rather than an active participant within it. As John enters his youth the slowness that sets him apart from his peers is ever present. Bullied at school and born into an affectionless family typical of the time, John feels an overwhelming affinity with the motionless sea. With each progressive chapter Nadolny tells of John’s first sea voyage and his subsequent experiences in the battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar. However, crucially Nadolny recognises the material’s potential for being more than just an account of a man’s ascent to the greatness he is destined. Moreover, The Discovery of Slowness is far more a universal experience of an innocent trying to find meaning in a world during one of its most traumatic periods. Soon John meticulous slowness is proved to be a valuable asset in navigation and exploration. Now matured into a man he embarks on the path destined to be his making and demise, his quest for the North Pole. Nadolny's ability as a writer is evident in his masterful use of succinct, welcoming prose to focus reader attention upon John Franklin the man as much as the myth. This raises the book from simple genre classification within the confines of historical novel or fictional biography. Instead it is a story rich in its contemplation of childhood, communication, religion, science and human survival. After two failed but celebrated attempts to conquer the Arctic, John is officially made a captain and given an opportunity to govern Van Diemen’s Land. Later to be renamed Tasmania by Franklin himself; Nadolny uses this episode of his life to highlight the explorer’s lesser known humanitarian aspirations. Removed from office and entering the twilight of his life John Franklin once more sets out for the Arctic. Nadolny chronicles the final episodes in this great man’s life with a satisfying artistic flourish. One feels the man so often out of rhythm with the rest of the world does in the end discover the place where time ceases to exist. Although perhaps not my usual choice of novel, I became engrossed in this book immediately and at its end I felt genuinely affected. It could be said Nadolny’s characterisation of John Franklin is not without its faults. For one he offers very little to the action in terms of direct dialogue, making him seem a little less convincing as a real person. Equally, the arduous lengths taken by the author to establish his main character as a man able to succeed in view of his extraordinary slowness mean in John’s moments of triumph he is in danger of appearing superhuman. However, the heart of the novel is about the interior of John’s mind. Here Nadolny etches a detailed contemplation of the merits of a slower, more methodical outlook in regard to leadership, understanding and ultimately the human condition. The Discovery of Slowness was originally published in Nadolny’s native Germany in 1983 and has never been out of print. With this new English translation I urge you to ensure similar prosperity is enjoyed over here.
The Discovery of slowness charts the amazing life of John Franklin, runaway, Midshipman, Veteran of the battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar, Arctic Explorer, Governor of Tasmania, Knight of the British empire and finally, missing hero. However, the really extraordinary part of his life is that he managed all this with what the author calls 'slowness'. From the beginning of his life, it became apparent that he was not like the other people. He could not catch a ball, or the ideas of people who spoke quickly. He was teased, and bullied repeatedly in each new situation until his peers began to notice his strengths. It seems that once he had committed something to memory, there it would stay, he could master detail that others could not, and was able to analyse problems and come to clear, usually correct, solutions. How he set about altering his life to cope with this difference, and to overcome obstacles forms the core of the book. I will leave it to you to discover his explanation for this part of his personality, and how he came to terms with it. I thought that Nadolny spun a series of well-researched facts into an engaging novel. The early parts of Franklin's life were fascinating and compelling. The middle part of the novel, and the end slowed down (no joke intended) for me, and left me wanting to know more. Maybe this part didn't interest the author so much. I found that the writing was a bit two dimensional in places, with not much characterisation of the supporting 'cast', but I suppose that in a factual novel, many people drift in and out of importance during a lifetime, and perhaps there isn't time for more detail. In a pure novel the author can concentrate on a small 'cast', so perhaps this isn't fair. The translation may also have had a part in this clunkiness, and perhaps the book would read differently in the author's native tongue. How the author discovered Franklin's 'slowness' I am not sure, and how much of his descriptions are based in truth, but he paints an intriguing portrait of this trait. In summary, I found the book a compelling read, looking at a fascinating time in our history from a very different perspective.
This very intriguing novel was first published in German in 1983, and translated and published into English in 1987. The seemingly very English subject of Sir John Franklin may seem an odd choice of subject for a German author, but Sten Nadolny has succeeded (and I assume the English translation faithfully mirrors the German original version) in offering to the reader a portrait of a unique man who lived a highly active life, yet remained a very ‘solid’ Englishman throughout.
The author has used the imagery of John Franklin as a slow and deliberate person from boyhood on, whose life in first the Navy and then as an explorer, then governor of Van Diemen’s Land, then fateful Arctic explorer once more was still a life lived as a deliberate and logical man who moved at his own pace to achieve great things. Interestingly the author has not focused on the last tragic voyage of Franklin to a great degree in the novel; rather, he has built up to that point of departure and fate through the actions of the man. From boyhood on, we follow John as he moves through the landscape first of the country, then the sea, the Arctic, the barren reaches of northern Canada, then to the strange land of Australia, then back to England and the Arctic once more.
The imagery of this story is the thing that really captures the imagination. While we get into the understanding of John as a boy and a man, we also ‘see’ things as he saw them, and it offers a new and unusual perspective from which to view this man whose legacy paints him as a larger than life figure. For the author, John is an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life in an extraordinary way all his own, and it is this man whose journey we share in this remarkable novel.
This was recommended to me by a very pretty German lady, so naturally I sent for it. I can't believe how engrossed I became. Wonderful story, full of human insights and a surprising number of adventures. Inspiring on several levels. I've been buying copies for friends.
Novel about arctic explorer John Franklin from his childhood to his disappearance trying to discover the North West passage, setting off in 1845. Nadolny's anti-hero learns to use his 'slowness' to his advantage. Highly fictionalized, it is NOT a historical retelling of his factual life but rather a contemplation and meditation about life, death, love and the importance of slowness and gentleness.
On one level this is the biography of john- the man who ate his boots Franklin, and his epic adventures of discovery. On a much more interesting level it is a reflection on how a slow-paced man builds strategies for coping with the faster world around him, and when shown patience by others, gained enormous respect and admiration for his hidden qualities. To be read slowly.
This book is stimulating, fascinating and beautifuuly written. Not avail. in the UK, except through the net - this is a travesty of justice. Sten is a great author and a good bloke - i met him in berlin buy this book!