The novel “Measuring the World” by Daniel Kelman, which was released in 2006, is currently considered the most successful and best-selling book in German. Before him, the palm belonged to the “Parfumer” by Patrick Suskind. In 2012, there was also an adaptation of the work, which received, I must say, more than restrained reviews (the rating of the film on the IMDb website is 5.8 out of 10). And indeed, if you plunge into the atmosphere of the novel, it becomes clear that to repeat the success of the book on the screen is an extremely difficult task, if not impossible.
In his book, Kelman put everything that we love literature so much: traveling by land and sea, in mosquito-infested South America and snow-covered Russia, the political intrigues of the Spanish court, the scientific debate in the enlightened circles of Europe, the love line of one of the heroes and as a cherry on a cake, occasional collisions with supernatural forces. The novel, though devoted to science, but the story is lively and interesting, and even the most complex theories are explained, as they say, on the fingers. Another distinctive feature of the novel is that there are as many as two main characters in it. Both are world-famous German researchers: Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Gauss. The first is the most famous traveler, according to contemporaries, who rediscovered America to the world, the second is a brilliant mathematician and astronomer who accomplished a revolution in science. Biographies of the great contemporaries and the basis of the novel. For almost the entire book, they are not familiar, and only occasionally stumble in the newspapers for news or about the latest discoveries of the Gottingen professor, or about a mad baron who descended into another cave. Only at the end of the narrative are the life paths of the characters intersect in Berlin, a city that, according to Gauss, will never become a metropolis, and will remain a miserable town in the swamps.
Both characters represent the exact opposite of each other. Humboldt comes from a well-known baronial family of von Humboldt, his elder brother will later play an important role in the development of not only German, but also world linguistics. From childhood, the brothers received the best possible education and upbringing at the time, studied languages and advanced scientific theories. Gauss was born in the family of a gardener, whose fingers were black from constant digging in the ground, and he probably would have followed in his father’s footsteps if by chance he didn’t demonstrate an ingenious solution to a complex problem in an arithmetic lesson and, having received preventive bashing from a teacher for entering university.
Humboldt got along well with people and was able to persuade anyone, be it the Spanish queen’s favorite, on whom the success of the expedition depended, or the captain of the ship, who until recently did not want to take on board dozens of scientific findings and (oh, horror!) Three ancient mummies . Gauss also had a passive-aggressive nature, could not find a common language with his wife, or with his own children, much less with the police. However strange it may sound, the relationship with the opposite sex in Gauss is more than wonderful, which cannot be said of Humboldt. Directly about his love preferences anywhere in the novel does not say, but on rare and dry hints and omissions, we can conclude that at least women were not interested in him.
Absolutely different and the scientific path of Gauss and Humboldt. The first one never left Germany, for making discoveries he had enough of what he observed either around himself or in the sky through a telescope. Humboldt, on the other hand, was always on the move: he constantly sailed somewhere, made his way through the jungle, climbed the highest mountains, descended into mines and caves, where his mind was muddled from lack of oxygen and shared his meal with both South American cannibals and the North American president.
However, with all its opposite, these great people shared a desire to know, to comprehend the Truth, the desire to measure everything that can be measured, mapped, whether earthly or heavenly, everything that is not on it yet. And let one do this sitting at home, and the second made the whole world his home, then the stubbornness with which both went towards their goal should be an example not only for scholars, but also for an ordinary person who has a dream.
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