Nadolny, Sten 1942-

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NADOLNY, Sten 1942-


Born July 29, 1942, in Zehdenick an der Havel, Germany; son of Burkhard and Isabella Nadolny. Education: Studied in Munich, Tübingen, and Göttingen (history and political science); Free University, Berlin, Ph.D.


Home—Berlin, Germany. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Piper Verlag, Georgen Str. 4, Munich, Germany 80799.


Writer. Washington University, St. Louis, MO, writer-in-residence, 1992. Also worked as a taxi driver, history teacher, and unit production manager for a film and television company.


Ingeborg Bachmann prize for Literature, 1980, for The Discovery of Slowness; Premio Vallaombrosa, 1986; grant from Berlin Senate, 1988; Ernst-Hofrichter prize, 1995.



Netzkarte, List (Munich, Germany), 1981.

Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1983, translation by Ralph Freedman published as The Discovery of Slowness, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.

Selim, oder, Die Gabe der Rede, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1990.

Ein Gott der Frechheit, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1994, translation by Breon Mitchell published as The God of Impertinence, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.

Er oder Ich, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1999.

Ullsteinroman, Ullstein (Berlin, Germany), 2003.


Abrüstungsdiplomatie 1932/33: Deutschland auf der Genfer Konferenz im Übergang von Weimar zu Hitler, Tuduv-Verlagsgesellschaft (Munich, Germany), 1978.

Das Erzählen und die guten Absichten: Münchener Poetikvorlesungen in Sommer 1990, Piper (Munich, Germany), 1990.

Das Erzählen und die guten Ideen: Göttinger and Münchener Poetik-Vorlesungen, Piper (Munich, Germany), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including World Literature Today.


German writer Sten Nadolny is the author of several critically acclaimed novels as well as works of literary criticism. Two of his novels, The Discovery of Slowness and The God of Impertinence, have been translated into English.

The Discovery of Slowness is a fictionalized biography of explorer Sir John Franklin, who, in the nineteenth century, became famous for his Arctic explorations.

While searching for the Northwest Passage, a sea route around North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, Franklin perished at sea at age sixty. Nadolny takes the Franklin of history and delves into the explorer's thoughts and desires, depicting him as a strangely slow child, deliberate in his actions. This depiction of slowness as a "hypothetical analog to the stillness of the Arctic," as Verlyn Klinkenbourg described it in a New Republic review, is Nadolny's central fictional conceit, for there is no historical evidence of Franklin's being particularly dull as a child. Klinkenbourg further noted that "because [Nadolny] tells his tale mostly from within Franklin's consciousness … the novel is filled with perplexity at what passes for normal. It has the eeriness of good science fiction, where the reader … seeks landmarks in the alien."

Winner of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for Literature, The Discovery of Slowness recounts how Franklin joined the British navy at age fourteen and rose to the rank of captain by the time he was twenty-nine. In his varied career he conducted scientific expeditions to Australia; participated in battles at Copenhagen, Trafalgar, and New Orleans; and even served as governor of Tasmania for a time before turning to more daring expeditions. Ronald L. Coombs, writing in Library Journal, found Nadolny's book wanting, observing that Franklin is "an admirable but oddly colorless character," and that the book is an "endless narrative of stilted, stifling prose." Klinkenbourg, on the other hand, felt that Nadolny's narrative is understated but far from dull. Noting that Franklin's life is the stuff of high adventure, the critic praised Nadolny for choosing a different route with his tale, composing a "quiet, elegant novel."

With The God of Impertinence Nadolny showcases his writing skills by constructing "a compelling novel with the most preposterous plot," according to Ellen Loughran in Booklist. Here the novelist postulates a world in which the pre-Christian gods of the Greeks have lived on for the past two millennia. Hermes, trapped inside a volcano on a Greek island for all this time, is finally freed by the god of iron, Hephaestus. As Hermes soon discovers, things have changed drastically during his long captivity. Still, he manages to enter the brains and nerves of people in the modern world and then directs their activities. As Hermes is the messenger of the gods as well as the god of fertility, such impersonations have interesting results when it comes to seducing strange women. However, Hermes unknowingly falls in love with another god, Helle, the daughter of Hephaestus, who has taken the body of a seventeen-year-old German woman, Helga.

The God of Impertinence was generally well received in its English translation. A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that Nadolny "embellishes on the myths of classic Greek gods who appear anachronistic in a modern world." The same reviewer further found the novel "fast-paced and funny." Similarly, Loughran called The God of Impertinence a "compellingly written novel" but criticized its "lack of subtlety." Richard Eder, reviewing the bookl in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, likewise found that "Nadolny's allegory is forced, to say the least." However, Marc A. Kloszewski, writing in Library Journal, was less equivocal in his praise for The Gods of Impertinence, calling it "a rare blend—thoughtful, learned, and amusing in equal doses."



Booklist, July, 1997, Ellen Loughran, review of The God of Impertinence, p. 1800.

Germanic Review, spring, 1994, review of Selim, oder, Die Gabe der Rede, pp. 61-69.

Library Journal, September 15, 1987, Ronald L. Coombs, review of The Discovery of Slowness, p. 96; June 1, 1997, Marc A. Kloszewski, review of The God of Impertinence, p. 150.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 6, 1997, Richard Eder, review of The God of Impertinence, p. 2

New Republic, December 7, 1987, Verlyn Klinkenbourg, review of The Discovery of Slowness, pp. 39-41.

Publishers Weekly, June 2, 1997, review of The God of Impertinence, pp. 50-51.

World Literature Today, spring, 2000, Gregory H. Wolf, review of Er oder Ich, pp. 401-402.


Goethe-Institut Athens Web site, (August 8, 2004), "Sten Nadolny."

Harbourfront Reading Series Web site, (August 8, 2004), "Sten Nadolny."

Illtal Gymnasium Illingen Web site, (August 8, 2004), "Sten Nadolny: Biographie."

Second Dimension Press Web site, (July 6, 2004), "Nadolny, Sten."*