Hoffmann, Yoel

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HOFFMANN, YOEL (1937– ), Hebrew novelist. Hoffmann was born in Hungary and came to Ereẓ Israel when he was a year old. He studied Japanese and philosophy, spent two years in a Buddhist monastery, and earned his doctorate in Japan. A professor of Japanese and Far Eastern philosophy at Haifa University, Hoffmann published The Idea of Self: East and West: A Comparison between Buddhist Philosophy and the Philosophy of David Hume (1980). Hoffmann also translated and edited collections of Japanese poetry and haiku, including The Sound of the One Hand (1975; German: 1978), Radical Zen (1978), Japanese Death Dreams (1986; German: 2000), Rein in Samsara (333 Zen-stories which appeared in German, 2002). Hoffmann began to write fiction in his late forties and in 1988 published his first Hebrew book: Sefer Yosef (Katschen and the Book of Joseph, 1998) with four prose texts. One of them is the novella "Keẓkhen," which tells of a boy who following the early death of his mother is brought up by family members and later fails to integrate among kibbutz children. At the end of his voyage, Kezkhen decides to follow his German-speaking father, who is considered to be mentally ill. This choice marks metaphorically the boy's rejection of the ubiquitous conventions and the notion of a monolithic Israeli identity in favor of his own genuine individuality and his inner world.

While in the early prose texts a certain plot-line and development can be discerned, the later texts display Hoffmann's idiosyncratic narrative techniques and unique style. The reader is confronted with a perplexing, untraditional, enigmatic prose: "novels" which are comprised of short texts, unpaginated though numbered prose miniatures in Hebrew that are interlaced with writing in various European languages, mainly German. Hoffmann creates a linguistic polyphony, unprecedented and bizarre, a mirror to a world of immigrants who came to Israel and yet are closely tied to their European roots. Typically, Bern hart (1989; English, 1989) depicts the world of German-Jews (yeckes) in Israel, torn between European reminiscences and sights and Israeli reality, between major historical events and the private experiences of daily life. Anecdotes and recollections, observations and deliberations, at times humorous, at times melancholy or earnest make up a prose texture that poses a challenge to readers. Hoffmann, no doubt one of the most original and exciting contemporary Hebrew writers, albeit still the preserve of insiders and cognoscenti, has also published the following books: Kristus shel Dagim (1991; The Christ of Fish, 1999); Guttapershah (1993), the story of two yeckes, Hugo and Franz, and a baby, real or imaginary, hanging between them; Ma Shelomekh, Dolores? (1995), a narrative tableau of an ordinary day in the life of a woman living in Ramat Gan; Ha-Lev Hu Katmandu (2000; The Heart is Katmandu, 2001); Efraim (2003), tracing the separation of a woman and a man who falls in love with another woman in Haifa; and Ha-Shunra ve-ha-Schmetterling (2003; The Shunra and the Schmetterling, 2004), in which Hoffmann recollects moments, smells, sounds and characters from his childhood in Ramat Gan.


S. Gingold-Gilboa, in: Yedioth Ahronot (December 25, 1987); S. Sandbank, in: Haaretz (January 22, 1988); A. Navot, in: Maariv (February 5, 1988); Y. Oppenheimer, in: Davar (February, 26, 1988); H. Hoffman, in: Yedioth Ahronot (July 7, 1989); A. Hirschfeld, in: Haaretz (March 31, 1989); A. Melamed, in: Yedioth Ahronot (March 15, 1991); F. Chefez, in: Yedioth Ahronot (March 22, 1991); G. Hazan-Rokem, in: Davar (July 12, 1991); A. Weisman, in: Davar (July 7, 1991); G. Shaked, "Afelah taḥat ha-Shemesh," in: Politikah, 40 (September 1991), 42–48; N.R. Sharf Gold, "Bernhardt's Journey: The Challenges of Yoel Hoffmann's Writing," in: Jewish Studies Quarterly, 1 (1993/94), 271–287; O. Bartana, "Mesapper Yekeh, Tel Aviv Polanit ve-Filosofyah Budhistit," in: Moznayim, 65:7–8 (1991), 39–42; B. Gur, in: Haaretz (November 12, 1993); O. Bartana, in: Al ha-Mishmar (January 14, 1994); D. Gurevitz, Postmodernism (1997), 262–86; H. Herzig, Ha-Kol ha-Omer Ani (1998), 305–86; Z. Shavitsky, "Yoel Hoffmann's The Book of Joseph, Bernhard and Christ of Fish: An alternative Perpective on a Migrant Community," in: Australian Journalof Jewish Studies, 13 (1999), 151–169; Y. Schwarz, in: Haaretz (May 26, 2000); A. Holtzman, in: Yedioth Ahronot (March 31, 2000); L. Yudkin, "Fill the Gap: The Space Sage, Yoel Hoffmann," in: Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures, 3:1 (2000), 77–85; R. Albek-Gidron, "Alha-Ofen she-bo Meḥayyekhim im Dolores," in: Zafon, 6 (2000), 33–48; S. Lan, in: Sefarim, Haaretz (June 11, 2003); D. Burstein, in: Haaretz (April 11, 2004); R. Albek-Gidron, "Ma-Hi ha-Moledet she-bah Meddaberim Hofmanit?," in: Zafon, 7 (2004), 67–76; Y. Schwartz, "'Habeiẓah she-Hitḥappesah,' "'Be-Februar Kedai Liknot Pilim': Dan Pagis, Yoel Hoffmann, Modernism u-Postmodernism," in: Zafon, 7 (2004), 277–293; T. Clarino, "'Kristus shel dagim': postmodernismo e Buddhismo Zen nella Prosa di Yoel Hoffmann," in: Annali di Ca' Foscari 43:3 (2004), 25–42.

[Anat Feinberg (2nd ed.)]