A memoir about cigarette smoking whose meditations provide an intellectual frame for the addictive habit.
In his unorthodox and candid memoir, German writer and translator Hens discusses his longtime addiction to cigarettes, his eventual recovery, and the ongoing battle with his addictive personality to fight the ever present urge to smoke. However, the author’s writing surpasses the redemptive arc of many other addiction narratives. Hens does not portray himself as a pitiable figure seeking sympathy, nor does he tout a sense of moral superiority for kicking his habit. Instead, he offers a meditative, philosophical inquiry into his addiction and the pleasure he derived from smoking. From an account of his very first cigarette, which was handed to him as a child of 5 or 6 by his mother to light a New Year’s rocket, to a description of the nicotine rush as the moment “I became myself for the very first time” to an exegesis on the psychology of the “last” cigarette, Hens is sentimental about the lost pleasures of smoking, but he does not dwell in nostalgia. The author is interested in plumbing his memory for vignettes that narrate but do not explain away his addiction. For Hens, the greatest pleasure of smoking is the quotidian, the reflective moment afforded by smokers to observe the world and themselves more attentively. Moreover, the author does not preach the negative health effects of smoking. As someone who admits to smoking more than 100,000 cigarettes before quitting, in his postscript, Hens rather fittingly invites readers to enjoy a smoke. The author is an idiosyncratic stylist whose sentences are often terse and elliptical, and Calleja’s translation ably captures his unique voice.
In a book that is as much a paean to smoking as it is a eulogy, Hens is both poetic and unforgiving about the pleasures and pains of smoking.