Hofmann and Kafka…provide one with rich intellectual companionship.

Diana Darke, The Times Literary Supplement

Michael Hofmann

The poet Michael Hofmann’s awards for translation include the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, the Schlegel-Tieck Prize (four times), and most recently, the American Academy’s Thornton Wilder Prize in Translation.

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Kairos

An epic storyteller with the most powerful voice in contemporary German literature, 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 takes place 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. She knows that no one is all bad, no state all rotten, and she masterfully captures the existential bewilderment of this period between states and ideologies.”

In the opinion of her superbly gifted translator Michael Hofmann, Kairos is the great post-Unification novel.

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Kairos

Jenny Erpenbeck (the author of Go, Went, Gone and Visitation) is an epic storyteller and arguably the most powerful voice in contemporary German literature. Erpenbeck’s new novel Kairos—an unforgettably compelling masterpiece—tells the story of the romance begun in East Berlin at the end of the 1980s when nineteen-year-old Katharina meets by chance a married writer in his fifties named Hans. Their passionate yet difficult long-running affair takes place against the background of the declining GDR, through the upheavals wrought by its dissolution in 1989 and then what comes after. In her unmistakable style and with enormous sweep, Erpenbeck describes the path of the two lovers, as Katharina grows up and tries to come to terms with a not always ideal romance, even as a whole world with its own ideology disappears. 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. She knows that no one is all bad, no state all rotten, and she masterfully captures the existential bewilderment of this period between states and ideologies.”

In the opinion of her superbly gifted translator Michael Hofmann, Kairos is the great post-Unification novel. And, as The New Republic has commented on his work as a translator: “Hofmann’s translation is invaluable—it achieves what translations are supposedly unable to do: it is at once ‘loyal’ and ‘beautiful.’”

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The Lost Writings

by Franz Kafka

Translated by Michael Hofmann

With a contribution by Reiner Stach

So, you want to leave me? Well, one decision is as good as another. Where will you go? Where is away-from-me? On the moon? Not even that is far enough, and you’ll never get there. So why the fuss? Wouldn’t you rather sit down in a corner somewhere, and be quiet? Wouldn’t that be an improvement? A warm, dark corner? Aren’t you listening? You’re feeling for the door. Well, where is it? So far as I remember, this room doesn’t have one. At the time this was built, no one had imagined such earth-shattering plans as yours. Well, no matter, a thought like yours won’t get lost, we will discuss it over dinner, and our laughter will be your reward.

Selected by the preeminent Kafka biographer and scholar Reiner Stach and newly translated by the peerless Michael Hofmann, the seventy-four pieces gathered here have been lost to sight for decades and two of them have never been translated into English before. Some stories are several pages long; some run about a page; a handful are only a few lines long: all are marvels. Even the most fragmentary texts are revelations. These pieces were drawn from two large volumes of the S. Fischer Verlag edition Nachgelassene Schriften und Fragmente (totaling some 1100 pages).

“Franz Kafka is the master of the literary fragment,” as Stach comments in his afterword: “In no other European author does the proportion of completed and published works loom quite so…small in the overall mass of his papers, which consist largely of broken-off beginnings.” In fact, as Hofmann recently added: “‘Finished’ seems to me, in the context of Kafka, a dubious or ironic condition, anyway. The more finished, the less finished. The less finished, the more finished. Gregor Samsa’s sister Grete getting up to stretch in the streetcar. What kind of an ending is that?! There’s perhaps some distinction to be made between ‘finished’ and ‘ended.’ Everything continues to vibrate or unsettle, anyway. Reiner Stach points out that none of the three novels were ‘completed.’ Some pieces break off, or are concluded, or stop—it doesn’t matter!—after two hundred pages, some after two lines. The gusto, the friendliness, the wit with which Kafka launches himself into these things is astonishing.”

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Pigeons on the Grass

Pigeons on the Grass is told over a single day in Munich in 1948. The first new cinemas and insurance offices are opening atop the ruins, Korea and Persia are keeping the world in panic, planes rumble in the sky (but no one looks up), newspaper headlines announce war over oil and atomic bomb tests. Odysseus Cotton, a black man, alights at the station and hires a porter; Emilia sells the last of her jewelry; Philipp gives himself up to despair; with their interracial love affair, Carla Behrend and Washington Price scandalize their neighbors—who still expect gifts of chocolate and coffee; a boy hustles to sell a stray dog; Mr. Edwin, a visiting poet, prepares for a reading; Frau Behrend disowns her daughter; Alexander stars as the Archduke in a new German Super-production; and Susanne seeks out a night to remember. In Michael Hofmann’s words, “in their sum, they are the totality of existence.”

Koeppen spares no one and sees all in this penetrating and intense novel that surveys those who remain, and those who have just arrived, in a damaged society. As inventive as Joyce and as compulsively readable as Dickens, Pigeons on the Grass is a great lost classic.

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Michael Kohlhaas

Michael Kohlhaas has been wronged. First his finest horses were unfairly confiscated and mistreated. And things keep going worse—his servants have been beaten, his wife killed, and the lawsuits he pursues are stymied—but Kohlhaas, determined to find justice at all costs, tirelessly persists. Standing up against the bureaucratic machine of the empire, Kohlhaas becomes an indomitable figure that you can’t help rooting for from start to finish.

Knotty, darkly comical, magnificent in its weirdness, and one of the greatest and most influential tales in German literature, this short novel, first published in German in 1810, is now available in award-winning Michael Hofmann’s sparkling new English translation.

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Investigations of a Dog & Other Creatures

Animals, strange beasts, bureaucrats, bouncing balls, businessmen, and nightmares populate this collection of stories by Franz Kafka. These matchless short works, all unpublished during Kafka’s lifetime, range from the snappy dialogue between a cat and a mouse in “Little Fable” to the absurd humor of “Investigations of a Dog,” from the elaborate waking nightmare of “Building the Great Wall of China” to the creeping unease of “The Burrow,” where a nameless creature’s labyrinthine hiding place turns into a trap of fear and paranoia.

“Oh,” said the mouse, “the world gets narrower with each passing day. It used to be so wide that I was terri ed, and I ran on and felt happy when at last I could see walls in the distance to either side of me—but these long walls are converging so quickly that already I’m in the last room and there in the corner is the trap I’m running into.” “You only have to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

—Franz Kafka (“LITTLE FABLE”)

“I think of a Kafka story as a perfect work of literary art, as approachable as it is strange, and as strange as it is approachable.” —Michael Hofmann

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The Hotel Years

The Hotel Years gathers sixty-four feuilletons: on hotels; pains and pleasures; personalities; and the deteriorating international situation of the 1930s. Never before translated into English, these pieces begin in Vienna just at the end of the First War, and end in Paris near the outbreak of the Second World War. Roth, the great journalist of his day, needed journalism to survive: in his six-volume collected works in German, there are three of fiction and three of journalism. Beginning in 1921, Roth wrote mostly for the liberal Frankfurter Zeitung, which sent him on assignments throughout Germany−to write about inflation, the occupation, political assassinations−and abroad to the USSR, Italy, Poland and Albania. And always: “I celebrate my return to lobby and chandelier, porter and chambermaid.”

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The Emperor's Tomb

Joseph Roth’s final novel is a haunting elegy to the vanished world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a magically evocative paean to the passing of time and the loss of hope. The Emperor’s Tomb runs from 1913 to 1938, from the eve of one world war to the eve of the next, from disaster to disaster. It is also a love story for Vienna. Striped with beauty and written in short propulsive chapters — full of upheavels, reversals, and abrupt twists of plot — the novel powerfully sketches a time of change and loss. Prophetic and regretful, intuitive and exact, The Emperor’s Tomb tells of one man’s foppish, sleepwalking, spoiled youth and his struggle to come to terms with financial ruin, the coarsening of the world around him, and the first stirrings of Nazi barbarism.

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The Leviathan

In the small town of Progrody, Nissen Piczenik makes his living as the most respected coral merchant of the region. Nissen has never been outside of his town, deep in the Russian interior, and fantasizes that a Leviathan watches the coral reefs. When the sailor nephew of one of Progrody’s residents comes to visit, NIssen loses little time in befriending him for the purpose of learning about the sea. The sailor offers Nissen a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to Odessa and tour his ship. Nissen leaves his business during the peak coral season, and stays in Odessa for three weeks. But upon his return to Progrody, Nissen finds that a new coral merchant has moved into the neighboring town, and his coral is quickly becoming the most sought after. As his customers dwindle, life takes an evil twist for Nissen Piczenik. And the final decider of his fate may be the devil himself.

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Party In The Blitz

by Elias Canetti

Translated by Michael Hofmann

With a contribution by Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti’s Party in the Blitz captures the “torture” and “needless humiliations” of his years in exile in wartime London. Well known throughout mainland Europe, Canetti was ignored by British intellectuals, and he scorned them in turn. By force of will alone, he accumulated followers, but not before being christened “the godmonster of Hampstead.” Party in the Blitz, like an X-ray, displays Canetti’s brief, scathing, brimstone sketches of the various people in his social circle: T.S. Eliot, Iris Murdoch, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Herbert Read, Bertrand Russell. Gorgeously translated by Michael Hofmann, Party in the Blitz lives up to Canetti’s injunction that “when you write down your life, every page should contain something no one has ever heard about.”

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Luck

In this beautiful, bittersweet novel, a young boy tries to come to grips with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. Mixing humor and suspense to present a heart-wrenching tale, Luck begins and ends on the same day, the “last day” of the narrator’s childhood as he prepares to leave home with Father. Sister will stay behind; Mother waits for her new man to arrive. “Mother didn’t love Father any more, it had just gradually happened like that,” the narrator tells us. Yet, will they really leave? Beneath this deceptively simple surface, between flashbacks and goodbyes, the anticipation builds as extraordinary depths of emotion and vulnerability unfold with “crystalline transparency” (Chicago Review).

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Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl

Goethe, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Einstein – all praised the writings of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), a mathematician, physicist and astronomer by profession, and an aphorist and satirist on the sly. In Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl, novelist Gert Hofmann weaves a wondrous fictionalized tale of Lichtenberg’s real-life romance with “the model of beauty and sweetness,” Maria Stechard, a flower seller he meets one day near his laboratory in Gottingen. “The greater part of what I commit to paper is untrue, and the best of it is nonsense!” says Lichtenberg, our hunchbacked hero. His daily life of “wrestling with death,” of electricity machines and exploding gases, is plunged into new passion the day he encounters the Stechardess: “Something is found that was lost for a long time.” Soon he teaches her to read and write, she helps him keep house… and then? Colored with Lichtenberg’s boisterous, enlightening meditations on life, death and everything in-between, this stunning fable-of-awakening was described by The Washington Post as “a quiet and convincing description of human happiness… a fine and original book.”

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Amerika

Karl Rossman, “a poor boy of seventeen,” has been sent away to America by his parents for his part in a scandal, and his travels unfold revelations about himself and his dreams. This is a new world where the Statue of Liberty holds aloft a sword rather than a torch, swindlers abound, and a bridge connects Boston to New York City.

The San Francisco Chronicle said Hofmann’s “sleek translation does a wonderful job” and The New York Times concurred: “Anything by Kafka is worth reading again, especially in the hands of such a gifted translator as Hofmann.”

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Hofmann and Kafka…provide one with rich intellectual companionship.

Diana Darke, The Times Literary Supplement

Hofmann’s translation is invaluable—it achieves what translations are supposedly unable to do: it is at once ‘loyal’ and ‘beautiful.’

New Republic

Anything by Kafka is worth reading again, especially in the hands of such a gifted translator as Hofmann.

The New York Times Book Review

Compare this to any previous translation, and you’ll see, for a start, that there is no dilly-dallying with style; the prose is swift, direct and without obfuscation, as, one presumes, Kafka intended. He has cut through literary pretension to seek out the heart of Kafka’s work—the very ‘particles’ of his writing, as they have been called. His translation shows Kafka as a modern writer whose work was beyond that of anything written at that time. Mr. Hofmann, in his many excellent translations from the German, always makes brave choices.

Lee Rourke, The Guardian

Michael Hofmann’s magnificent new translation restores its rightful place as one of Kafka’s most delightful and most memorable works.

Charles Simic
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