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The Discovery of Slowness

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,821 ratings  ·  117 reviews
"Absolutely stunning."—Times Literary Supplement

"This remarkable, superbly translated novel derives from the life of the real 19th century explorer John Franklin…[whose] adventures are conveyed with spellbinding skill."—Publishers Weekly

"[The Discovery of Slowness] is about a guy who is so incredibly slow in his perception that he . . . actually sees shadows moving. [T]he
Paperback, 325 pages
Published May 1st 2005 by Paul Dry Books (first published 1983)
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Nadolny tells the story of the British Royal Navy Officer and Arctic explorer John Franklin who died in 1847 while attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The historical sources are well studied, but Nadolny has found an own explanation for Franklin's iron will.

John Franklin is slow, very slow. When other children play ball, he holds the cord because he's too slow to catch. The cord however he can hold for hours. This alleged handicap also has
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A superb biographical novel about Sir John Franklin, the British naval explorer who disappeared into the Arctic while trying to determine the Northwest Passage. The title says it all, for it is about a person who is "slow" yet manages to make the world fit within his own limited skill sets.

The struggle to find and live by one's own rhythm defines what it is to be human.

Franklin's childhood, expounding on his slowness and his father's lack of feeling toward his dull son, leads to a career at sea.
Molly Major
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A little known and fine piece of literature is the novel Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit (The Discovery of Slowness), by Sten Nadolny. The story is a fictionalized account of John Franklin, a historical explorer around the turn of the 19th century. As the protagonist, John Franklin is the most unlikely of adventurers because he is regarded as “slow”. He has a disability restricting and affecting his physical movement as well as his perception. He literally cannot move quickly or see things that m ...more
Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit
By Sten Nadolny

This work is a historical fiction based on the life of Sir John Franklin (1786 - 1847).

Great Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Historical naval battles at Copenhagen, Trafalgar and New Orleans, John Franklins is engaged in all of them. He sailed on board the ‘’Investigator’ to the coasts of Australia.

He participated in an expedition to the North pole and two Antarctic expeditions before being named Governor of Tasmania where he stays
The Discovery of Slowness is a "novel of ideas," but rather than the negative connotation that term often seems to carry, I intend it here as high praise. Nadolny's probing questions about what qualities make a person succeed or fail, and about the value of slow, determined strength, are engrossing and provocative. Those questions are made crucial to the vivid telling of John Franklin's story (the historical accuracy of which I can't speak to, but it certainly felt believable to me), so they don ...more
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All my friends
Recommended to Zeb by: the title jumped out at me
One of the highlights of my life: having smoked-salmon breakfast in my house with Sten Nadolny. He is every bit as adorable as his books suggest, and the lesser known books by his mother would suggest also, that this is a lovely cultured family.
The book speaks for itself, read it if you feel drawn to that sort of literature. The sort being: taking a historical character and building a novel around that persons life, based on fact and embellished by the author's ideas. I'd have to re- read the bo
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Vira by: Asaf Bartov
Wonderful story! I'm too glad of having read it to tell you how exactly glad I am :)

Historical prose has never been my favourite genre because of its being defined — in reality a storyteller can't change the end as it had already happened. The same is true for historical fiction: what right a storyteller has, even in a book, to change the end as it had already happened? So pure fiction remains the sea I like to swim in.

Nevertheless, The Discovery of Slowness is a life story of a man I didn't kn
Harinarayan Sreenivasan
This is a fictionalized biography of the 19th century Arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin. He is slow. Slowness here has nothing to do with stupidity or mental retardation. He just takes his own time to do anything and hardly gives up. Thus he turns around an apparent weakness to his greatest strength. He shows that slowness in even desired in some pursuits. Was Franklin was slow in his real life? Probably yes. Probably no.

This book is very popular in the artistic circles. Probably due to the fi
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Meant to read this a long time ago and was moving at my own pace, per the underlying message of this very beautiful (and beautifully paced) novel about timing and being true to one's internal clock. Turns out it requires weirdly unshakable confidence. Also a preference for the open sea appears useful. I haven't been this interested in early expeditions to the arctic in quite some time (read: ever). But in general, it was just my speed. (Side note: the author does not use any puns as terrible as ...more
Liam Heneghan
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This novel is exceptional. Absorbing, thought-provoking, and evocative of the era (nineteenth-century) in which its British explorer protagonist, Sir John Franklin, lived. It is--perhaps this is a warning--performatively slow. It is not a page-turner understood as a rapid and thrilling read. Rather, it promotes deliberation, thoughtfulness, moments (long moments) of reverie. This may very much be your cuppa tea: it was mine.
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Took a while to get into, but became very beautiful over time (ironic, maybe I had to get into the pace of the book myself before I could enjoy it fully...!)
This book is brilliant though not always fun to read. This shouldn't be surprising because it is about slowness and it makes you feel Franklin's slowness, the great strength and also the initial handicap that results from it as well his great patience and wisdom, all of which would not be possible without his slowness. Nadolny also does a great job at portraying the social environment that often confronts Franklin with mockery and contempt for his slowness, but over time learns to acknowledge an ...more
Laurie Frost
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is about polar explorer John Franklin -- on the surface. But it is really about seeing the world differently than most, perhaps what would now be called being neuro-atypical.

What I found most impressive about this book was the slowness of its prose. Not tedious or boring, but slow. The rhythm of its sentences, the pacing of the narrative: slow. Slow in its pure, not perjorative sense. To convey this is also a masterwork of translation.

The narrative covers the first of Franklin's polar
Aug 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Follow where the path leads without doubt or fear. there is only now to be addressed. The main character in this book is breathtakingly well-written. By the end you are so in his head that everything makes perfect sense and you're so sympathetic to him that everyone who ever judged him seems utterly foolish ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The title describes perfectly my dawning understanding about this book. Slowly, I discovered that it was . . . slow going.
Could not be bothered to finish it.
Amélie Brouillard
Refreshing view of the world. Loved some of the narrator's thoughts, some really good sentences in there. ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
This book, which first appeared in 1983, and has been translated into many languages, has now been re-issued - with some updating of Ralph Freedman’s superb translation.

It’s a fictionalised biography of John Franklin, and also a meditation on perseverance, difference, and the way in which time is perceived. Franklin first went to sea as a boy and had a long career both in the Navy – he was at the Battle of Trafalgar – and later as an explorer in the Arctic seas.

The book is regarded as Nadolny’s
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the most satisfying and well written book I have come across this year. The book is ostensibly about John Franklin the explorer, but it is so much more. As a child he was slow and probably today would be considered to have learning disabilities or be labelled on the autism spectrum. He managed to understand his own personal rhythm in life, and he had discovered coping mechanisms to deal with what he faced in order to pursue a life in the British navy. The book is beautifully constructed ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fictionalized biography of Artic explorer John Franklin. The first thing we are told about Franklin is that he is slow. And his Slowness is what gives him the iron will to carry on and follow his dreams. The narration is meant to make us see how Franklin would see the world: full of details and sometimes unrelated thoughts. There are a few scenes, especially the ones with action, that make you realize how fast we are living and how we lose focus on what surrounds. It made me realize how anxiou ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Unusual biography based on the life of 19th century explorer Sir John Franklin, who became a hero during the Battle of Trafalgar. Promoted to ship's captain in the Royal Navy, Franklin led an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. He and his crew barely survived the journey; most perished from cold or starvation. As a young man, many mistook Franklin's intentionally slow, deliberate manner for stupidity, but it was these very qualities that made him a successful ship commander and expedi ...more
Larissa Fan
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Author Sten Nadolny has imagined a background for John Franklin in which the seeming impediment which makes his childhood miserable is the very thing that eventually makes him an ideal Arctic explorer. Franklin can only perceive the world slowly and with great deliberation. This puts him out of pace with most of the world, leading him to be labeled as slow and stupid. It is only with the help of an astute teacher, and his own resolve and obstinacy, that he learns to work with his atypical intell ...more
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Historical Fiction of epic proportions. Sten Nadolny writes of Sir John Franklin, 19th century Arctic explorer, thus dispelling the notion that one must move swiftly in matters of discovery. Early on Sir John became keenly aware of his innate slowness and the advantages it afforded him by adapting to his 'slow' nature. Accepting that compensating for his slowness is what helped him become the navigator he is remembered for. This would make a most satisfying topic for PBS to portray in a mini ser ...more
Lepe Parviainen
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable, partly fictionalised biography of the great British explorer of the Arctic, sir John Franklin (1786–1847). The book takes you back 200 years to the Arctic Sea, Tasmanian colony, London and the Northwest Passage in Northern Canada. The key concept of the book is that Franklin is painted as a mentally slow person, who might be diagnosed today having a neuropsychiatric disorder. This quality is celebrated and praised despite the hardships it brings him.
Klaas Bischoff
Nadolny tells the story of the British explorer Sir John Franklin, who lived in the 18th and 19th century. Franklin has always been slower with everything compared to his peers. This books tells the story of a man who used his slowness to his advantage and became a successful captain whose goal it was to find the Northwest Passage.

The book contains some interesting life lessons related to taking one's time. The story itself, however, I did not find very entertaining.
Hưng Bùi
Aug 18, 2020 rated it liked it
In accordance with the name, the book starts very slowly and bordering on boring, which almost prompts me to drop it. It also does not help with a somewhat peculiar prose which is hard to follow at first. But you get used to it. Fortunately the pace picks up later. The book isn't so much about slowness and its significance but more about Sir John Franklin life and exploration, which are indeed interesting. The author's narration contains stuff worth contemplating imo. ...more
Apr 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-read
So, I'm not sure I'm definitely *in love* with this book, but it was a fascinating read and I think I'll keep thinking about what this novel has to say about speed/slowness, individuality, and failure for a while to come.
Not quite as humorous as Measuring the World (the favourite this reminded me of), but on a similar level when it comes to the more philosophical considerations surrounding exploration, curiosity, and the familiar vs. the new.
May 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
To have lived during this time period! I love any stories from the 19th century. What an interesting man who lived so much life.

The book is well written. There are occasionally phrases that I have trouble comprehending but they aren't bothersome enough to effect the experience. Characters are great, dialogue is good. Everything feels genuine which is probably the result of this being based on a real guy.
Lauren Mangold
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nadolny uses the real life and exploits of the historical John Franklin to frame a narrative both absorbing and epistemological. When he composed the work in German in 1983, 'neurodiversity' was hardly the watchword it has become today, and yet the author makes clear the virtues of Franklin's "slowness". ...more
Colin Murphy
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The problem with such a book being crafted 150 years after the actual man lived is that it becomes too heavily entrenched in the contemporary norms of a hero. These implausible virtues for a man of Franklin's era distracted from what this book is so beautifully centered around: slowness. The deluge of morality added nothing given the fact that slowness can clearly benefit the bad as well. ...more
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent biography/novelisation of the life of Sir John Franklin, who rose from dim witted child in Lincolnshire to one of the most well respected men in the British empire.
Novelisation allowed the author to make it readable and lucid and the life of Franklin provides more than enough excitement to create a great story
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Sten Nadolny, (born 29 July 1942, in Zehdenick, Province of Brandenburg) is a German novelist. His parents, Burkhard and Isabella Nadolny, were also writers.

His best known work is "The Discovery of Slowness" (1987; originally published in 1983 as "Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit"), a fictionalized meditation on the life and lessons of British Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. A pre-publication por

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