Hoffman grew up in postwar Cracow, emigrated to Vancouver at 13, went on to college (Rice) and a Ph.D. in English literature...


LOST IN TRANSLATION: A Life in a New Language

Hoffman grew up in postwar Cracow, emigrated to Vancouver at 13, went on to college (Rice) and a Ph.D. in English literature (Harvard) before settling in at the New York Times Book Review. Her distinguished memoir is an extraordinary achievement, not only resurrecting with poignant fidelity the life left behind, but also characterizing with considerable artistry the perplexing muddle of a teen-age exile and her adult search for ease in this new land and language. In its outer contours, Hoffman's story resembles many: her family, escaping anti-Semitism after the war, leaves Poland (""a nation of ironists and gamblers""), confronts the free-enterprise system, and begins its long, awkward assimilation process. In its actual content, however, her version embraces much more. Hoffman steps far beyond culture clash (Cracow cellar-cafÉs to the backseat of a convertible) and the anxieties accompanying emigration to contemplate the seismic assault on her identity and her lingering straits: words have no emotional valence, no meaningful bridge connects past to present, memory becomes a ""phantom pain."" When she goes to Rice, she most envies those with a sense of place. Years pass before the language reveals its music. Hoffman learns to read American friends better (""where conviction ends and self. presentation begins""), consciously struggles to end her ""resident alien"" status, and ultimately resists shadows threatening to obscure the evidence of her own experience here. Leaning toward a more American demeanor, she reconciles the discontinuous parts of her self. Even more impressively, Hoffman retraces these several paths with rigor, integrity, and a compelling diction that invest this bracing intellectual variant of the immigrant success story with energy and incandescence.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1988

ISBN: 0140127739

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988

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