Yoel Hoffmanns

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Buddhism, Judaism, mysticism, religion, translation
Written and spoken word (general)
Middle East, Europe, Eastern
Israel, Hungary
created on:
April 28, 2005
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since January 26, 2011. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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When two linguistic cultures so contrasting in content like the eloquent whisperings of the cabbala and the almost wordless communication of Zen Buddhism collide with each other, the usual order is shaken by those divergent forces as is the case in Hoffmann’s prose. It is thanks to the ideas and flashes of inspiration between the stages of a biography, tragically marked at the beginning and later with greater calmness, that Hoffmann, with the late literary debut of ´Katschen & The book of Joseph´ (1998) has taken up a special place in Hebrew avant-garde literature.
Born in Hungary in 1938, Yoel Hoffmann fled the terror of the Nazis with his parents at the age of one year, to Palestine. Here his mother died. He growed up in an orphanage until his father re-married. A feeling of deep alienation overcame him, similar to which is found years later in the figures of his novels. But before this, as a young man, he left his barely new hometown, this time of his own free will, to go to new foreign places, to Japan, where he studied philosophy of religion and lived for two years in a Zen monastery. The experiences of this time influenced not only his prose but also prompted him to translate Japanese poetry. They also characterize his teaching work at Haifa University where, as professor of philosophy and East Asian religious studies, he commits himself to bringing about a dialogue between Western and Asian thought.

Also from here, themes flow into his literature. His work is always marked with philosophical questions concerning certainties, justified hope and correct action through laconism of absurd thought and irrational characters. This is also the case in Hoffmann’s second novel ´Bernhardt´ (1998) in which a lonely immigrant, a German Jew in British Palestine, mourns his dead wife. He leaves the house in which they once lived together and wanders aimlessly around coffee-houses, cinemas and friends while the Second World War is breaking out. And so the narrative structure of the novel genre is further undone in his books. Whereas his debut ´Katschen & The book of Joseph´, which describes the wanderings of a Russian Jew in Berlin, digresses, ´Bernhardt´ is made up of miniature-like ´chapters´. He develops this method in ´The Christ of Fish´ (1995) and his most recent work ´The Heart is Katmandu´ (2001).

Yoel Hoffmann was awarded with, amongst other, the Jewish Book Award of the Koret Foundation and the Bialik Prize of the city of Tel Aviv and his works have been translated into many languages. Today he lives in Galilee.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)



Published Written,

Curriculum Vitae

Published Written,
New Directions

The Shunra and the Schmetterling

Published Written,
New Directions Publishing Corporation


Published Written,

The Heart is Katmandu

Published Written,
New Directions: New York

The Christ of Fish

Published Written,
New Directions: New York

Katschen & The Book of Joseph

Published Written,
New Directions: New York


Published Written,
New Directions: New York

How Do You Do, Dolores?

Published Written,

Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death

Published Written,
(Ed.), Tuttle Publishing: Rutland/ Vermont


International Festival of Literature Berlin