Skip to content

Hoffmann writes in a language of miracles.

American Book Review

Yoel Hoffmann

Israeli author and translator

Born in Romania in 1937 to Austro-Hungarian Jewish parents, Hoffmann and his parents fled Europe for British Mandate Palestine. As a young man, Hoffmann left his home in Israel and traveled to Japan, where he spent two years living in a Zen monastery studying Chinese and Japanese texts with monks. He taught Eastern philosophy at the University of Haifa for many years and did not begin writing fiction until in his forties. Today he is widely regarded as Israel’s leading writer of avant-garde fiction. Six of his books have appeared in English with New Directions: Kastchen and Other Stories, Bernhardt, The Christ of Fish, The Heart is Katmandu, The Shunra and the Schmetterling, and Curriculum Vitae. Hoffmann’s honors include The Koret Jewish Book Award, the Bialik Prize, and the Prime Minister’s Prize.


Moods

Fiction by Yoel Hoffmann

translated by Peter Cole

Part novel and part memoir, Yoel Hoffmann's Moods is flooded with feelings, evoked by his family, losses, loves, the soul's hidden powers, old phone books, and life in the Galilee—with its every scent, breeze, notable dog, and odd neighbor. Carrying these shards is a general tenderness accentuated by a new dimension brought along with "that great big pill of Prozac."

Beautifully translated by Peter Cole, Moods is fiction for lovers of poetry and poetry for lovers of fiction—a small marvel of a book, and with its pockets of joy, a curiously cheerful book by an author who once compared himself to "a praying mantis inclined to melancholy."



Curriculum Vitae

Poetry by Yoel Hoffmann

translated by Peter Cole

Yoel Hoffmann’s Curriculum Vitae is the remarkable summation of the writer’s life: his escape from the Holocaust; his arrival in Palestine; time in an orphanage; youth; two marriages; fatherhood; his studies of Japanese Buddhism; his travels; his ever-busy inner life. Curriculum Vitae begins quietly but becomes more and more hypnotic and amazing. Funny, gorgeous and utterly unique, Curriculum Vitae is Yoel Hoffmann’s triumphant look backward and inward: How stupid we are to let the world toss us from one place to another, while we need to speak to dentists and poets like warehouse clerks who keep an account of old equipment (bags here and belts there) and pile it up on the floor. What do we remember? The lake at Biwa and the houses across it. The cherry blossoms and Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maidenak . . . . “Hoffmann,” as The Chicago Tribune put it, “is not just a good writer but a great one, with the ability to find, in the moment-to-moment dislocation of daily existence, epiphanies of revelatory force . . . What Hoffmann has achieved is a kind of magic.” Hoffmann has also been hailed as “miraculous” (A. B. Yehoshua), “spectacular” (The New Yorker), “radiant” (World Literature Today), and “stunning” (The New Leader).



The Heart is Katmandu

Fiction by Yoel Hoffmann

translated by Peter Cole

The Heart Is Katmandu tells a tale of new love—of paradise gained. Set in today’s Haifa and presented in 237 dream-like small chapters, it is a book in which shyness and stumbling tenderness emerge triumphant. Poet Peter Cole has made a beautiful translation, capturing Hoffmann’s intense and unfathomably original style. A starred Kirkus Review acclaimed the novel "Beautiful, humane, priceless."



The Christ of Fish

Fiction by Yoel Hoffmann


Yoel Hoffmann’s novel The Christ of Fish, revolving around its heroine Aunt Magda, offers a heart-stopping view into the soul of things. Hoffmann makes a beautiful, epiphanic mosaic out of 233 pieces of Aunt Magda’s life in Tel Aviv. Originally from Vienna, still speaking German after decades in Israel, and a widow, Aunt Magda has "divided her life into two periods: ’When my husband was alive’ and ’now.’" "Now," ever elusive and ever inclusive in Hoffmann’s work, contains her childhood, her marriage, her nephew, her best friend Frau Stier, Wildegans’ poetry, apple strudel, two stolen handbags, Bing Crosby, a favorite café, and a gentleman admirer. Spontaneous and dreamlike, Hoffmann’s images of reality shift in currents of "realness,"creating moments of absolute clarity—life, seized as it is and of itself—from the "cotton reels of memory." One reel concerns the title fish: "At the beginning of the fifties (Food was scarce in those days. Once a month, in exchange for government stamps, we ate a yellow chicken.) on Passover Eve, Aunt Magda’s friend Berthe came to visit her and brought her from the Jordan Valley a large carp in a metal bucket....Aunt Magda filled the bath with water and put the carp in it. Two whole days the carp swam up and down the length of the bath. On the third day, Aunt Magda declared that the carp ’thinks just like we do,’ and sent Uncle Herbert (an expert in Sanskrit) ’to put the fish back in the sea.’"



Bernhard

Fiction by Yoel Hoffmann


Set in 1940’s Palestine, Bernhard concerns a German-Jewish widower. Devastated by the loss of his wife, Bernhard disconsolately walks the streets of Jerusalem, considering Gandhi, analysis, the beauty of his wife Paula’s neck, his Arab neighbors, Kokoschka, the Messiah, and the inner life of his friend Gustav the plumber. As his hero tries to come to terms with his grief and the disasters of WWII, Hoffmann shows the slow remaking of an inner world.  



The Shunra and the Schmetterling

Fiction by Yoel Hoffmann

translated by Peter Cole
Edited by Adam Phillips

Shunra is Aramaic for "cat." Schmetterling is German for “butterfly." In Yoel Hoffmann’s new book, these and numerous other creatures, cultures, and languages meet in a magical shimmering hymn to childhood. Hoffmann traces his hero’s developing consciousness of the ways-and-wonders of the world as though he were peering through a tremendous kaleidoscope: all that was perceived, all that is remembered, is rendered in fluid fragments of color and light. With remarkable delicacy and sweep, Hoffmann captures childhood from the amazed inside out, and without the backward-looking wash of grown-up sentiment. Instead, the boy’s deadpan registration of the human comedy around him is offered up as strangely magical fact. Beautifully translated by Peter Cole, The Shunra and the Schmetterling is fiction for lovers of poetry and poetry for lovers of fiction––a small marvel of a book, and one of the author’s finest to date.



Katschen & The Book of Joseph

Fiction by Yoel Hoffmann


Katschen & The Book of Joseph makes an amazing American debut for Israeli writer Yoel Hoffmann. Intensely moving, the two novellas display the entirely original poetry and hypnotic verve of Hoffmann’s atomized language, which Rosmarie Waldrop has called "utterly enchanting––it is like nothing else." "The Book of Joseph" tells the tragic story of a widowed Jewish tailor and his son in 1930s Berlin. "Katschen" gives an astounding child’s-eye view of a boy orphaned in Palestine. "When Yoel Hoffmann’s books first appeared in the late 1980s," Professor Nili Gold has commented, "they seemed to have tunneled their way into Israel from afar... Technically of the same generation (the ’Generation of the State’) as canonical realist writers like A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz, he didn’t begin to publish fiction until his late forties, and in many ways he represents a generation of one, at the edge of the Israeli avant-garde."


Available: May 01 1998