Gregor Hens

Translated by Jen Calleja

Published 4 November 2015, French paperback with flaps, 168 pages
Foreword by Will Self

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The translation of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut which is funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Written with the passion of an obsessive, Nicotine addresses a life of addiction, from the epiphany of the first drag to the perennial last last cigarette. Reflecting on his experiences as a smoker from a young age, Gregor Hens investigates the irreversible effects of nicotine on thought and patterns of behaviours. He extends the conversation with other smokers to meditations on Mark Twain and Italo Svevo, the nature of habit, the validity of hypnosis, and the most insignificant city in the United States, where he lived for far too long. With comic insight and meticulous precision, Hens deconstructs every facet of the dependency and offers a brilliant disquisition on the psychopathology of addiction.

‘If Nicotine has a literary progenitor I would say that it is In Search of Lost Time … an extraordinary act of literary finesse … [with] tinkling little notes of comedy … [a] dark, lovely, funny book.’
Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

‘[W]hen Nicotine stays dry, earthy and combustible, like a Virginia tobacco blend, it has a lot to say and says it well.’ 
Dwight Garner, New York Times

‘A satisfying wisp of an essay about tobacco, addiction, first cigarettes, last cigarettes, breathing, kissing, hypnosis, literature, memory, and marking time … Nicotine is a smoke ring, blown perfectly in a single puff, or – better? – a wafting trail of vapor. Will Self contributes a foreword, a rapid monologue punctuated with vigorous little twists, as though he were grinding out a stub with yellow-stained fingers.’
— Christine Smallwood, Harper’s

‘[An] elegant, lucid and consistently entertaining memoir (or essay; or prose work; or 150-odd-page long extended plume of smoke; it is punctuated by black-and-white photos, à la W. G. Sebald, which on the page look as though they have been captured through a veil of the stuff).’
— Nick Lezard, Spectator

‘Hens endured and he wrote about it, resulting in this excellent personal work on the fetishisation, the ceremony and the compulsions of the smoker … Nicotine is a meandering journey through a life of everyday addiction, soaked in memories stained sepia by tobacco smoke … The writing is superb, an unclassifiable mix of freeform thought and transcribed memory, reminiscent of the wonderful essayist Geoff Dyer. Its malleable structure, through sheer skill and confidence, allow the many digressions to remain ever valid and precise … Insightful and honest.’  
— The Skinny

‘In his unorthodox and candid memoir, German writer and translator Hens discusses his longtime addiction to cigarettes, his eventual recovery, and the ongoing battle with his addictive personality to fight the ever present urge to smoke … The author is an idiosyncratic stylist whose sentences are often terse and elliptical, and Calleja’s translation ably captures his unique voice. In a book that is as much a paean to smoking as it is a eulogy, Hens is both poetic and unforgiving about the pleasures and pains of smoking.’
Kirkus Reviews

‘The act of reading is always a dialogue between reader and writer, and in Hens I have found my ideal interlocutor; which is a great relief to me, because for the committed smoker there’s only one thing worse than not being able to smoke, and that’s not being able to talk about it.’
— Will Self, author of Umbrella

‘Every cigarette I’ve ever smoked now seems, in retrospect, like little more than preparation for this remarkable essay – though nothing in me could have anticipated its exquisitely surprising brilliance, the precision and play of its intellect. It’s about smoking, sure, but it’s also a luminous and nuanced exploration of how we’re constituted by our obsessions, how our memories arrange themselves inside of us, and how – or if – we control our own lives.’
— Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

‘This is not a story about quitting, but an accomplished and unsettling meditation on one’s own addiction.’
Die Zeit

‘This book is not an advice manual, nor an attempt to account for an addiction, but rather a gripping investigation: What was that first cigarette like, that first conscious inhalation of nicotine, which moments are inseparable from smoking and always will be?’
Deutschlandradio Kultur

‘A passionate attempt to banish the addiction through words.’

‘Tobacco, labeling, and landscape all combine with a snapshot immediacy, powerful and pleasant, that gives flavor and color to Hens’s discovery of the wider world, in all its variety, and to moments of great personal significance. If it’s hard to communicate to nonsmokers how physically and mentally difficult it is to quit, Hens’s memories of nicotine make it palpable to anyone why, even once you’ve stopped smoking, you’re never quite over it.’
— Eric Banks, 4Columns 

Gregor Hens, born in 1965, is a German writer and translator. He has notably translated Will Self, Jonathan Lethem and George Packer into German.

Jen Calleja is a writer, translator, curator and musician. She has translated prose and poetry for Bloomsbury, PEN International, the Austrian Cultural Forum London and the Goethe-Institut.