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Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale Nota Bene) Paperback – March 1, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This long-overdue study illuminates the rich biographical meaning behind much of Celan's spare, enigmatic verse." -- New York

"This volume has been long and justly awaited. It is the finest approach to the Celan-world so far available." -- George Steiner, Times Literary Supplemeny

John Felstiner's excellent biography is full…of the poems themselve, both in German and in Felstiner's own excellent English translations. -- O Magazine

From the Publisher

Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award

Chosen as a best book of 1995 by Choice magazine, Village Voice, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Philadelphia Inquirer

Winner of the 1997 University of Iowa Writers' Workshop Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin


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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Paperback Edition edition (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300089228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300089226
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Celan was born into what soon became the wrong place and time. His family were German-speaking Jews from the eastern reach of the Austrian Empire. They lived in Czernowitz, capital of the Bukovina region, which passed to Romania just before Celan's birth in 1920. After a nine-month visit to his uncle in Paris where he was exposed to the Surrealists' influence in 1938, then his return to Czernowitz where his studies were interrupted by Soviet and then German occupation in 1940 and 1941, after forced labor in Romania's western mountains, his parents' deportation and death in German-occupied Ukraine, after the Red Army's return in 1944, Celan left home for Bucharest and then Vienna, where he first attracted recognition as a German-speaking poet, and in 1948 he settled in Paris. There he found a haven of sort at the Ecole Normale Superieure, where he taught German language and literature to generations of students (some of whom later contributed to his posthumous fame) and pursued his vocation as a poet in exile, estranged from his German mother tongue and survivor of a world that no longer was.

Coming from a homeland that hardly existed anymore, writing for a German audience that he did not live among or trust, residing in France yet undervalued there, Paul Celan's native tongue itself was the only nation he could claim. Yet his relation to the German language was itself problematic, for the Nazis had abused and contaminated the words that once belonged to Goethe and Holderlin. Celan's austere idiom, mindful of death and horror, is rooted in his struggle to realize--by way of uninnocent language--"that which happened", the understatement he used to designate events of 1933-45.
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Format: Paperback
Much of Paul Celan's later poetry is hermetic, and acknowledge by many to be impossible to truly understand without knowledge of the poet's life. Nonetheless, for a long time English speakers had no biography of this influential modern poet. In PAUL CELAN: Poet, Survivor, Jew author John Felstiner covers the whole course of Celan's all-too-brief life, emphasizing the poet's Jewish identity above others. Besides a simple biography, Felsteiner also discusses a number of Celan's poems, which he himself has translated into English (the book assumes no knowledge of German), and also chronicles Celan's output of translations and his relationship to other (especially Jewish) poets.

For Felstiner, Paul Celan's feelings as a Jew play an important role throughout his poetry, but it seems especially important in the early and late periods over the middle. Celan began his mature career as an orphan whose parents perished in the death camps and who himself served forced labour in wartime Romania. This of course, providing the impetus for not only his famous "Todesfuge", *the* poem on the death camps, but also the imagery of much of his first acknowledged volume. In the last decade of Celan's life, on the other hand, the poet was gripped by paranoia that Germany was not sufficiently acknowledging its sins and that neo-Nazis were plotting against him. This, Celan as representative of a race that has not only suffered before but is still hunted today, Felsteiner sees as an important part of the late works.

If I give this biography only three stars, it is because I wish that there was more information about Celan's life and less exegesis of his poetry. Indeed, Celan's mental distress which sent him more than once to a psychiatric clinic is barely touched upon.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am finding this book a rich, dense, rewarding study of this enigmatic, courageous and poignant poet. Neither purely a biography nor purely an anthology, this book combines some of both, with added insight into the art of translation - a topic I would not have sought out, but which Felstiner renders fascinating... Much underlining going on as I read. A book that cannot be rushed through, but which seduces the reader into deep contemplation.
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