Eva Hoffman Criticism - Essay

Genevieve Stuttaford (review date 9 December 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stuttaford, Genevieve. Review of Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language, by Eva Hoffman. Publishers Weekly 234, no. 24 (9 December 1988): 54.

[In the following review, Stuttaford notes that an immigrant's assimilation into a new culture is the dominant theme in Hoffman's Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language.]

Daughter of Holocaust survivors, the author [Eva Hoffman], a New York Times Book Review editor, lost her sense of place and belonging when she emigrated with her family from Poland to Vancouver in 1959 at the age of 13. Although she works within a familiar genre in Lost in Translation, Hoffman's is a penetrating, lyrical memoir that casts a wide net as it joins vivid anecdotes and vigorous philosophical insights on Old World Cracow and Ivy League America; Polish anti-Semitism; the degradations suffered by immigrants; Hoffman's cultural nostalgia, self-analysis and intellectual passion; and the atrophy of her Polish from disuse and her own disabling inarticulateness in English as a newcomer. Linguistic dispossession, she explains, “is close to the dispossession of one's self.” As Hoffman savors the cadences and nuances of her adopted language, she remains ever conscious of assimilation's perils: “But how does one bend toward another culture without falling over, how does one strike an elastic balance between rigidity and self-effacement?”

Stanislaw Baranczak (review date 6 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Baranczak, Stanislaw. “The Confusion of Tongues.” New Leader 72, no. 3 (6 February 1989): 16-18.

[In the following review, Baranczak discusses the importance of language to the immigrant experience as related in Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language.]

Emigré, exile, expatriate—there may be more synonyms for these in Roget's Thesaurus, most of them probably beginning with an “e-” or “ex-,” those sad prefixes of exclusion. But the excluding “e-” has its antonymous companion, “in-,” as in inclusion or immigration. I suppose just about anybody who has ever crossed the frontier line between “e-” and “in-” has at least...

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William A. Proefriedt (essay date spring 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Proefriedt, William A. “The Immigrant or ‘Outsider’ Experience as Metaphor for Becoming an Educated Person in the Modern World: Mary Antin, Richard Wright, and Eva Hoffman.” MELUS 16, no. 2 (spring 1989): 77-89.

[In the following essay, Proefriedt examines the educational aspects of the immigrant experience, focusing on the work of Hoffman, Mary Antin, and Richard Wright.]

A great deal of thinking about educating people who move from one culture to another has gone on in this country in the twentieth century. At its best, this thinking has focused on the ways in which equality of opportunity could be enhanced for an immigrant population through...

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Andrew Clifford (review date 15 December 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Clifford, Andrew. “Teach Yourself American.” New Statesman and Society 2, no. 80 (15 December 1989): 38-9.

[In the following review, Clifford argues that Hoffman's language in Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language is too Americanized to adequately articulate the division between her Polish heritage and American upbringing.]

Immigrants arriving in their new country make similar choices to those made by the indigenous children who are growing up in it. They have to decide, principally, what to accept, reject and rework in their new adult or foreign culture. While the young take up their options to some extent unconsciously, a typical immigrant...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

Philip Marsden (review date 4 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Marsden, Philip. “Sweet are the Uses of Diversity.” Spectator 271, no. 8630 (4 December 1993): 44.

[In the following review, Marsden offers a positive assessment of Exit into History: A Journey through the New Eastern Europe, calling the work “profound and provocative.”]

The re-emergence of Eastern Europe used to be such a simple issue. The communists were gone, and everyone was free to be like us. Accustomed to seeing those beyond the Iron Curtain as somehow homogenous, we expected them to become free uniformly as well.

But they haven't. Difference has become the antidote to ideology. For comprehension we must now wade through...

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Merilyn Oniszczuk Jackson (review date spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jackson, Merilyn Oniszczuk. “Pictures in Dissolving Frames.” Belles Lettres 9, no. 3 (spring 1994): 59.

[In the following review, Jackson argues that Hoffman's attempts to bring a journalistic perspective to her travels through Eastern Europe in Exit into History conflict with the rest of the work's “lyrical” and “personal” tone.]

From her solitary travels during 1990-91 through five newly liberated Eastern European countries, Eva Hoffman compiled Exit into History: A Journey through the New Eastern Europe. In it she portrays the diverse people she encountered as they struggle to catch up to free world economies. Hoffman, a former...

(The entire section is 669 words.)

Anne Applebaum (review date 5 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Applebaum, Anne. “A Gathering of Dissidents.” New Republic 211, no. 23 (5 December 1994): 46-9.

[In the following review of Exit into History: A Journey through the New Eastern Europe, Applebaum contends that Hoffman's position as an American outsider in Eastern Europe makes it difficult for her to understand the subtleties of the region's political situations.]

About halfway through her journey across the six nations of Central Europe chronicled in Exit into History, Eva Hoffman has an odd experience. She is in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and she is sitting in a wine bar, drinking the potent white wine for which the Slovaks are...

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Danuta Zadworna Fjellestad (essay date summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fjellestad, Danuta Zadworna. “‘The Insertion of the Self into the Space of Borderless Possibility’: Eva Hoffman's Exiled Body.” MELUS 20, no. 2 (summer 1995): 133-47.

[In the following essay, Fjellestad explores the marginalization of Central European American literature by focusing on how Hoffman's Lost in Translation portrays the immigrant writer's experience.]

For the European, even today, America represents something akin to exile, a phantasy of emigration and, therefore, a form of interiorization of his or her own culture.

—Jean Baudrillard, America


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Publishers Weekly (review date 25 August 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews, by Eva Hoffman. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 35 (25 August 1997): 53.

[In the following review, the critic lauds Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews as objective and well-researched.]

Anticipating controversy like that engendered by Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, Hoffman sets out to determine Poland's complicity in the Holocaust in Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Although her Jewish parents had been harbored for two years during the war by a Polish peasant,...

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Jaroslaw Anders (review date 12 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Anders, Jaroslaw. “Poles Apart.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (12 October 1997): 10.

[In the following review, Anders discusses Hoffman's theories about the roots of Polish anti-Semitism in Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews.]

[Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews] was conceived as a companion volume to a documentary of the same title made by Marian Marzynski that aired on the PBS news show Frontline in April 1996. It has become much more than that three-hour film; Shtetl is a thoroughly researched and powerfully written guidebook to one of the most contested areas...

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Eunice Lipton (review date 3 November 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lipton, Eunice. “Unknowing Neighbors.” Nation 265, no. 14 (3 November 1997): 26-7.

[In the following review, Lipton praises Hoffman for her unique approach to the question of Polish anti-Semitism and complicity in the Holocaust in Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews.]

Shtetl is a daring and generous book, measured in style, passionate in intent. It was, I do believe, written for love. Not for the love of a person or a country, but for some configuration of home, for a laying bare of mysterious and destructive ancient mechanisms that, once understood—one hopes, one prays—may bring warring partners, even a...

(The entire section is 1666 words.)

Andro Linklater (review date 14 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Linklater, Andro. “Poles Together—And Apart.” Spectator 280, no. 8845 (14 February 1998): 32.

[In the following review, Linklater examines the central argument in Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews, praising Hoffman's “provocative thesis.”]

Laziness can kill. When a peasant in the market-place of Bransk, a small town in Poland 100 miles from the Russian border, tells Eva Hoffman how he helped dispose of Jews who had been murdered by the Nazis, carrying so many corpses in his cart to a mass grave that he had to wash the blood off in the river, the story triggers a chain of associations. Poland after all was...

(The entire section is 798 words.)

Sarah Phillips Casteel (essay date winter 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Casteel, Sarah Phillips. “Eva Hoffman's Double Emigration: Canada as the Site of Exile in Lost in Translation.Biography 25, no. 1 (winter 2001): 288-301.

[In the following essay, Casteel evaluates how Hoffman portrays the social and physical landscapes of Canada in Lost in Translation.]

Lost in Translation, Eva Hoffman's 1989 account of her family's difficult emigration from Poland to Canada and her own subsequent immigration to the United States, is described in the back cover blurb as “A classically American chronicle of upward mobility and assimilation” (emphasis added). Ignoring the fact that almost a third of Lost in...

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Petra Fachinger (essay date summer 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fachinger, Petra. “Lost in Nostalgia: The Autobiographies of Eva Hoffman and Richard Rodriguez.” MELUS 26, no. 2 (summer 2001): 111-27.

[In the following essay, Fachinger compares and contrasts the work of Hoffman and Richard Rodriguez, exploring how the two writers articulate their own unique immigrant experiences in America.]

In “The Plural Self: The Politicization of Memory and Form in Three American Ethnic Autobiographies,” in which she compares N. Scott Momaday's The Names, Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera, and Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez concludes,


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Publishers Weekly (review date 23 September 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Secret, by Eva Hoffman. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 38 (23 September 2002): 47.

[In the following review, the critic commends the “philosophical” subtext in The Secret.]

Can a clone contain a new human soul or just a photocopy? Hoffman brilliantly meditates on this mystery in her auspicious fiction debut [The Secret] as she examines the bond between Iris and Elizabeth Surrey, which gives new meaning to the well-worn term “my mother myself.” Iris's search for identity begins when the teen discovers her birth in 2005 was achieved via cloning. Iris's single mom, Elizabeth, fled Manhattan to the Midwest to rear Iris after becoming...

(The entire section is 272 words.)

Anita Desai (review date 19 December 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Desai, Anita. “Cards of Identity.” New York Review of Books 49, no. 20 (19 December 2002): 70-2.

[In the following review, Desai praises Hoffman's prose in The Secret, noting that Hoffman's experience as a nonfiction author contributes to the novel's realistic and “affecting” tone.]

Eva Hoffman's previous books have been piercingly specific about time and place—a Polish shtetl, the Holocaust, the New World as experienced by a new immigrant. In her first novel, The Secret, she abandons that grounding in the historical moment and space and goes the whole fictional length into an imagined world set in an imagined future.


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Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 November 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Aftermath of the Holocaust, by Eva Hoffman. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 22 (15 November 2003): 1350.

[In the following review, the critic calls After Such Knowledge a “commendable contribution” to Holocaust studies, noting Hoffman's engaging representation of the challenges faced by the children of Holocaust survivors.]

[After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Aftermath of the Holocaust, l]iterate if sometimes arid essays on the world—intellectual, cultural, and emotional—of the Holocaust's “second generation.”

Memoirist Hoffman (Shtetl, 1997,...

(The entire section is 362 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 24 November 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Aftermath of the Holocaust, by Eva Hoffman. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 47 (24 November 2003): 54-5.

[In the following review, the critic lauds Hoffman's essays in After Such Knowledge, praising the collection as a “beautifully wrought, deftly argued examination of how we might attempt to understand the Holocaust.”]

“Sixty years after the Holocaust took place … [and] this immense catastrophe recedes from us in time, our preoccupation with it seems only to increase,” writes Hoffman in [After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Aftermath of the Holocaust,] this beautifully...

(The entire section is 349 words.)