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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The great book in English on Celan, 20 Dec 2007
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lexo1941 (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale Nota Bene) (Paperback)
John Felstiner's book on Paul Celan is an extraordinary act of critical sympathy and witness. Celan is a difficult poet, even if you know German, but Felstiner's achievement is to demonstrate that the difficulty is (for one thing) not all that difficult, and (also) the poet's entitlement. The extended assessment of Celan's most famous poem 'Todesfuge' (Death Fugue) is a lesson in patient and knowledgeable commentary (it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that when the poem first appeared, in a Romanian translation, it was called 'Death Tango'). Felstiner shows, with exemplary tact and discretion, how that poem's celebrated imagery is in fact nothing but literal truth.

Much of Celan is so tough to translate that I feel it's almost presumptuous of me to criticise Felstiner's translations, and yet I think he sometimes stumbles against the fierce and arduous wordplay of some of Celan's later stuff; but then, who wouldn't. Celan had a life marked by appalling loss and tragedy and misunderstanding, and Felstiner respects his subject's occasional failures of nerve; the gossippy bit of me wants to know exactly what it meant that Celan was occasionally 'violent', but then again, the man's parents were killed by the Nazis, we should really cut him some slack...

Read this book, by all means. But read the poems. And if you can only read one of the two (why should that be?), read the poems.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential to understand one of the Great Poets of the XXth Century, 16 Jun 2006
By 
J. N. Valente "jnscav" (Evora, Portugal) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale Nota Bene) (Paperback)
To my great regret I came to the poetry (and the life story behind so much of it) of Paul Celan somewhat late in life, unpardonably late, even. But from the moment I did I knew that this was not just the Poet of the Holocaust - he was an unparalled poetic genius in the second half of he last century. This is a personal and totally biased opinion, so go read the poems, surely they speak for themselves. Yes they do.

But in this book we have contextualization, translations almost dissected (mostly in the German to English angle) and biographical notes along the way.

Paul Celan was himself a polyglot and a prolific translator. Born in a Romania that has changed borders to a jewish family that did not escape the fate of most others in Eastern Europe, eventually a French citizen, one of the great poets and shapers of the German language of all times.

His legacy is tremendous. His suicide perhaps a powerful statement of guilt or alienation - perhaps something entirely different that need not be dwelt on to enjoy the work.

Though "enjoy" seems to me to be an entirely personal approach.

He leads us to a labyrinth. To the depths of human cruelty. But he can see that all human passions have great surviving power.

Maybe not just after witnessing and enduring their extremes can one hope to reconcile itself with the humanity and the passions within.

The book is extraordinarily well-researched and written in a style I'd call 'academic but unassuming'. It will leave you with a longing to read more from Celan. That alone would justify its writing, apart from all its many merits.
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Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale Nota Bene)
Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale Nota Bene) by John Felstiner (Paperback - 1 Feb 2001)
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