Nationality: German. Born: Limbach, 29 January 1931. Education: University of Freiburg/Breisgau, Ph.D. 1957. Career: Taught at various universities after leaving East Germany in the 1950s; lecturer in modern German literature, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 1965-68; returned to Germany in the 1980s. Awards: Harkness award, 1965; Radio Prague International Radio Play prize, 1968; Yugoslavian Radio prize, 1973; Ingeborg Bachmann prize, 1979; Prix Italia, 1980; Alfred Döblin prize, 1982, for The Spectacle at the Tower.Died: July 1993.
Die Denunziation [The Denunciation] (novella). 1979.
Die Fistelstimme. 1980.
Auf dem Turm. 1982; as The Spectacle at the Tower, 1984.
Unsere Eroberung. 1984; as Our Conquest, 1985.
Der Blindensturz. 1985; as The Parable of the Blind, 1986.
Die Weltmaschine. 1986.
Unsere Vergesslichkeit. 1987.
Vor der Regenzeit. 1988; as Before the Rainy Season, 1991.
Der Kinoerzähler. 1990; as The Film Explainer, 1995.
Das Glück. 1992.
Die kleine Stechardin. 1994.
Gespräch über Balzacs Pferd (includes "Die Rückkehr des verlorenen Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz nach Riga"; "Casanova und die Figurantin"; "Gespräch über Balzacs Pferd"; Der Austritt des Dichters Robert Walser aus dem Literarischen Verein"). 1981; as Balzac's Horse and Other Stories, 1988.
Fuhlrotts Vergesslichkeit; Portrait eines uns bekannten Kopfes: Erzählungen. 1981.
Tolstois Kopf: Erzählungen. 1991.
Der Bürgermeister. 1963; as The Burgomaster, 1968.
Kündigungen (includes Unser Mann in Madras ; Tod in Miami ). 1968; Unser Mann in Madras translated as Our Man in Madras, in Plays in One Act, edited by Daniel Halpern, 1991.
Die Überflutung: 4 Hörspiele (radio plays: includes Autorengespräch ; Schmährede des alten B. auf seinen Sohn ; Der lange Marsch ; Die Überflutung ). 1981.
Dionysos Archemythos: Hölderlins transzendentale Poiesis (dissertation). 1996.*
"'Ein hoffnungsloser Moralist': Some Observations on the Narrative World of Gert Hofmann" by Michael Butler, in German Life and Letters (England), 47(3), July 1994, pp. 375-84; "Gert Hofmann's Die Denunziation, " in German Studies Review, 19(3), October 1996, pp. 415-32, and The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust, 1999, both by Ernestine Schlant; Semiotic Discourses and the Production of Literary Texts: Joseph Roth, Ernst Jünger, Gert Hofmann (dissertation) by Christoph Prang, University of North Carolina, 1998; "'Das war schon einmal da, wie Langweilig!'?: 'Hörspiel' and Narrative in the Work of Gert Hofmann (1931-1993)" by Debbie Pinfold, in German Life and Letters, 52(4), 1999, pp. 475-89.* * *
Born in 1931, Gert Hofmann belonged to a generation of postwar German writers who grew up during the Nazi period and, because of their age, were spared direct participation in the war at the fronts or in the concentration camps. Yet as children, Hofmann and his contemporaries were inadvertently witnesses to various horrors, from denunciations, murder, and suicides to ostracism and persecution that affected mostly Jews but also members of their own families. As with Christa Wolf's 1976 novel Kindheitsmuster, a major part of Hofmann's literary work was focused intensely on buried childhood memories of life in the family and in his hometown between the late 1930s and 1945. Many of his novels not only dwell upon dramatic events dating to these years but also reflect on the very process of unearthing and reassessing the bits and pieces of memories. In his work the author reveals the cognitive, psychological, and aesthetic problems associated with the endeavor to retrieve the past.
Hofmann started in the 1960s as an author of radio dramas and as a playwright for television, but his indisputable literary breakthrough came in 1979 with the publication of the novella Die Denunziation ("The Denunciation"). Die Denunziation marked the beginning of his serious interest in the subject of the Holocaust and the German Nazi past. Hofmann surprised the public with the originality of his selection of historical themes as well as with the rich palette of narrative techniques and strategies. Characteristic of Hofmann's prose are the peculiar restlessness and unreliability of the narrative voice. The narrator switches perspectives, cruises freely between past and present, and often shades into an unidentifiable presence as if to underscore the idea that the "truth" about the past has become practically inaccessible.
Most of Hofmann's works touching upon themes of persecution, racism, and murder during the Nazi period are set in the microworld of a sleepy provincial town in Germany. Often the author uses his own birthplace in Saxony, Limbach, as the background for the historical events. With almost ethnographic accuracy Hofmann describes the life of the family—with its predictable dynamics, power plays, and idiosyncracies—set within a small network of friends, neighbors, and relatives. Yet at the same time, he transforms the family into the stage where private attitudes, petty habits, and routine behavior resound with the big moral dilemmas of the time and can be fatally related to ruptures and tragedies of historic proportions. In Die Denunziation, for example, it is the Hecht family that disintegrates in the most dramatic way after an anonymous betrayer reports the half-Jewish tailor L. Silberstein to the authorities. After Silberstein is rounded up in 1944, his wife commits suicide, and thereupon the mother of the Hecht family drowns herself, the father is sent to the retreating Eastern Front, where he is killed, and the twin brothers, Karl and Wilhelm Hecht, are separated for life at age 14.
In other short novels, such as Unsere Eroberung (1984; Our Conquest ) and Veilchenfeld (1986), the narrator's voice assumes the identity and naive directness of children who have inadvertently become witnesses to historical tragedies. Sent on an errand on 8 May 1945, two brothers from Unsere Eroberung run into various adults whom the children suspect of participation in unimaginable horrors. It is again a child, their cousin Edgar, who unearths the nasty truth, namely that a Czech slave laborer has been murdered in the family factory. In the novel Velichenfeld the complex conjunction between the quiet and unremarkable everyday life of the small community of Limbach and the cruel political persecution of its only Jewish member, Professor Veilchenfeld, in the course of 1938 is seen again through the eyes of a child.
The theme of the Nazi past is handled with subtlety and humor in Hofmann's most overtly autobiographical text, Der Kinoerzähler (1990; "The Film Explainer"). Once again, the book presents a meticulous study of one community's petty quarrels surrounding the "Aryanization" of a Jewish-owned cinema, and it goes on to reveal the subtle mechanisms leading to collaboration in the horrors of Nazism.
Hofmann's approach to the Holocaust and the Nazi past lacks the self-righteous pathos of other contemporaries who became known as the creators of the so-called Väterliteratur. While these authors have explored the past of their authoritarian parents only to assess the psychological injuries that were sustained, Hofmann is interested in the broader impact of the atrocities of the Holocaust, on Germans and Jews as well. In his works he manages to maintain a masterful balance between realistic autobiographical details and a modernist sense of rupture, incompleteness, and the impossibility of a consistent account of the experience. At the same time, his novels avoid the traps of sentimentality and philo-Semitism and offer no ready condemnations or absolutions.