Vividly self-aware echoes of one man’s fertile imagination.



Almost 200 gracefully composed poetic vignettes about the inner and outer lives of a writer in modern-day Israel.

This wry, gentle, and unique composition by Hoffmann (Curriculum Vitae, 2009, etc.), translated by his longtime collaborator Cole (The Invention of Influence, 2014, etc.), serves as a witty follow-up to his fictional but similarly structured memoirlike book, The Heart is Katmandu (2001). Here, the author plays himself, but his observations on life in Galilee are no less whimsical than those of his characters. “It’s hard to believe that all this is taking place within a book,” he writes. “The people must be very small.” There is a unique energy in the freedom the author has allowed himself here as he moves from observations on relationships and family to literary criticism to observational portraits of beautiful places, like candles floating on the surface of a Japanese lake. In one sad shard, the author offers a litany of things that might break our hearts: “One-eyed cats. Junkyards. The stairwells of old buildings. A small boy on his way to school.” But there’s a sense of humor floating just beneath the surface. After describing a story in which a man sues the banquet hall after injuring his foot while stomping on a glass, as is traditional, at the end of his wedding, Hoffmann offers this rebuttal. “Imagine for a moment the crucified one coming down from the cross and hiring a lawyer,” writes our bemused author. “He’d have thrown history off its course, and who knows what disasters might have ensued.” Even when Hoffmann throws a few barbs at book critics, they’re drolly funny. “As for war,” he writes. “They should call up reserves of literary critics. They’d vanquish the enemy with their weighty pronouncements. Afterwards, the critics could enlist the lethal forces of verbal contortion and extensive annotation to verify that the enemy in fact had been crushed.”

Vividly self-aware echoes of one man’s fertile imagination.

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2382-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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