Collage of book covers: Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck; A Time to Kill by John Grisham; Killing Time by Caleb Carr; Stories are Weapons by Annalee Newitz; Tell Me a Story by Daniel Taylor; The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid; Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

6 Degrees of Separation: On Time and Storytelling

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with the 2024 winner of the International Booker Prize, Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated by Michael Hofmann).

Jenny Erpenbeck has created an unforgettably compelling masterpiece with Kairos. The story of a romance begun in East Berlin at the end of the 1980s: the passionate yet difficult long-running affair of Katharina and Hans hits the rocks as a whole world―the socialist GDR―melts away. As the Times Literary Supplement writes: “The weight of history, the particular experiences of East and West, and the ways in which cultural and subjective memory shape individual identity has always been present in Erpenbeck’s work.”


I haven’t read this novel, so I’m going to focus on the significance of its title. Here’s a definitions of kairos:

Kairos (Ancient Greek: καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘the right or critical moment’. . . . It is one of two words that the ancient Greeks had for ‘time’; the other being chronos (χρόνος). Whereas the latter refers to chronological or sequential time, kairos signifies a good or proper time for action. In this sense, while chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature.


My first degree offering is A Time to Kill by John Grisham. This is the first novel Grisham wrote, but a publisher wasn’t ready to publish it until Grisham had established his reputation as an author. Grisham therefore wrote The Firm, the blockbuster novel that also became a just-as-popular film. Two relevant points make A Time to Kill an appropriate choice here: (1) it contains the word time, and (2) it also had to wait for an opportune moment to reach publication.

A similarly titled book is Killing Time by Caleb Carr, a speculative fiction work set in 2023. Published in 2000, this novel presents a world in which crucial historical events are captured in digital recordings that have been doctored with special effects. Criminologist Dr. Gideon Wolfe must try to discover what actually happened and who is responsible—both for the doctoring of the recordings and for the Presidential assassination that is inaccurately documented.

The last book I bought is the recently published nonfiction work Stories are Weapons: Psychological Warfare and the American Mind by Annalee Newitz. This book “traces the way disinformation, propaganda, and violent threats—the essential tool kit for psychological warfare—have evolved from military weapons deployed against foreign adversaries into tools in domestic culture wars” (from the dust jacket). In other words, how the plot line of Carr’s speculative future plays out in the real world of today.

One of the first books I read about the power of personal storytelling is Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories by Daniel Taylor. Although not a scientific work, this book spurred my interest in learning about how life stories function.

One type of life story is the life review often undertaken by older adults as they look back on the significance of their lives. I have enjoyed observing how novelists incorporate such life reviews in their works. One of the best examples is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, in which an aging well-known actress chooses to tell her story to an upcoming journalist.

Another fine example of life review in literature is Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.

This month’s 6 Degrees journey took me through time and storytelling. Where did your journey take you?

© 2024 by Mary Daniels Brown

3 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: On Time and Storytelling”

    1. Oh no! thanks for letting me know, Liz. I see that the “like” button is cranking and cranking and failing to load. But I”m currently traveling and on a fairly open network, so I’m not going to do anything in the admin area of the blog until after I get home (July 31). But thanks for the heads-up.

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