Paul Celan, Europe's most compelling postwar poet, was a
German-speaking, East European Jew. His writing exposes and
illumines the wounds that Nazi destructiveness left on language.
John Felstiner's sensitive and accessible book is the first
critical biography of Celan in any language. It offers new
translations of well-known and little-known poems-including a
chapter on Celan's famous "Deathfugue"-plus his speeches, prose
fiction, and letters. The book also presents hitherto unpublished
photos of the poet and his circle.
Drawing on interviews with Celan's family and friends and his
personal library in Normandy and Paris, as well as voluminous
German commentary, Felstiner tells the poet's gripping story: his
birth in 1920 in Romania, the overnight loss of his parents in a
Nazi deportation, his experience of forced labor and Soviet
occupation during the war, and then his difficult exile in Paris.
The life's work of Paul Celan emerges through readings of his poems
within their personal and historical matrix. At the same time,
Felstiner finds fresh insights by opening up the very process of
translating Celan's poems.
To present this poetry and the strain of Jewishness it displays,
Felstiner uncovers Celan's sources in the Bible and Judaic
mysticism, his affinities with Kafka, Heine, Hölderlin, Rilke, and
Nelly Sachs, his fascination with Heidegger and Buber, his piercing
translations of Shakespeare, Dickinson, Mandelshtam, Apollinaire.
First and last, Felstiner explores the achievement of a poet
surviving in his mother tongue, the German language that had
passed, Celan said, "through the thousand darknesses of
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