cover image Our Philosopher

Our Philosopher

Gert Hofmann, trans. from the German by Eric Mace-Tessler. NYRB Classics, $15.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-68137-758-2

Hofmann (1931–1993) explores terrifying and timeless questions through the gaze of youth in this probing 1986 novel (after The Parable of the Blind). Hans, a German child in the late 1930s, knows that Herr Veilchenfeld is an elderly philosopher and professor emeritus living in his central German town whom his father, the town’s doctor, visits regularly, both to check on his heart condition and to tend to the wounds sometimes inflicted on him by rowdy town drunks. Hans also knows that his parents talk about Herr Veilchenfeld constantly, discussing both what is being done to him by the town and what he is doing to make it even harder for himself. As the drama of this hyperlocal persecution plays out in the background, Hans runs around the pond with his sister, begs for ice cream, and interjects questions about Herr Veilchenfeld: “[Papa] loses his self-control and shouts at us that we shouldn’t ask so much. And think, I ask. May I think about him?” As he comes to understand that something is not right with his kindly, mysterious neighbor—and that something has shifted in the world during this time of great political and social upheaval­—Hans experiences a private and deeply moving coming-of-age. The result is a delicate tale of innocence unknowingly lost. (Sept.)