Michael Hofmann reads his father’s book
- Our Conquest by Gert Hofmann, translated by Christopher Middleton
Carcanet, 281 pp, £9.95, March 1987, ISBN 0 85635 687 5
After thirty years teaching German literature and writing radio plays, my father suddenly began to write fiction. Our Conquest was his fifth book in five years, and the second to be translated into English. (He has since published three others in Germany). The sense of the possessive in the title is objective: it is we who have been conquered. The book plays for roughly the first 24 hours of peace in a small town in Germany, on a Wednesday in May 1945; and yet, as we shall see, and as the translation has it, a little fortuitously, because the word is Ruhe (‘quiet’), ‘there’s never a moment’s peace in our town.’ There is a famous concrete poem/ calendar which goes something like Krieg/ Krieg/ Krieg/ Krieg/ Mai/ Juni/ Juli, but to the world of my father’s novel, things are rather less clear-cut and progressive. There, the fighting is over, but the war is still everywhere.