PRAISE FOR NICOTINE

  

“Nicotine is a chronicle of his year overcoming the habit. The book is a slim but plaintive memoria to a lost love — a philosophical meditation on the nature of addiction, the listlessness, the frustration and the sense of grief one feels at the loss of a fix. Its structure is reminiscent of the memoryscapes of W.G. Sebald, including the strange, captionless photographs. This intelligent, literary volume plumbs Mark Twain, Italo Svevo and Van Morrison. But make no mistake: Nicotine isn’t a self-help book. It’s not an anti-smoking screed. Nor is it a love sonnet to tobacco. It’s an honest exposition of the emotional complexity of quitting.” — The Washington Post 

 

 “…it is by association with nicotine that Hens shows us what he wants us to know about his life. People will connect his book with Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception,” and I’m sure Hens had that volume in mind, but if “Nicotine” has a literary progenitor I would say that it is “In Search of Lost Time,” in which Proust made the material of seven volumes bloom out of one French cookie dunked in a cup of tea. “Nicotine” is much shorter, only a hundred and fifty-seven pages, but Hens uses a similar alchemy to transform the things of his world—the family in which he grew up, in Cologne; his former home in Columbus, where he taught German literature at Ohio State; his apartment in Berlin, where he lives with his wife, and produces novels and translations—into whole relay stations of poetic force, humming and sparking and chugging… —an extraordinary act of literary finesse…[with] tinkling little notes of comedy…his story becomes captivating—laced with a saving irony—by being told through the medium of something as humble as tobacco… The book, too, ends with love and cigarettes…It is a strange combination, love and smoke, but there is a long streak of strangeness in German art—colors you didn’t expect (Caspar David Friedrich, Max Beckmann), Venuses who aren’t pretty (Cranach, Altdorfer)—which nevertheless feels like life… [A] dark, lovely, funny book. ” —New Yorker

 

“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.” —Harper's

 

“Nicotine is not another finger-wagging treatise on the evils of smoking. Nor is it a boring, triumphant tale of how one can muster the willpower to dump the cigarettes and replace them with a diet of unpasteurized goat’s milk and raw parsnips. Indeed, in the book’s postscript, Mr. Hens reminds readers that he doesn’t want ‘to persuade you to do anything. . . . Help yourself if you want to, or don’t.’ Instead this is a wonderfully meandering memoir, beautifully written, in which Mr. Hens recalls formative experiences through the experience of smoking—because cigarettes were always present— while also exploring the psychology of an addict. But reading Nicotine made me wonder if, like Mr. Hens, “each one of those cigarettes meant something to me,” even the thousands that I don’t recall smoking. Remembering shared cigarettes with long-forgotten friends, chain-smoking ex-girlfriends, strangers in bars and that one time I smoked on a plane, I suspect he’s right.”  — Wall Street Journal

 

“…part memoir, part philosophical lament…when Nicotine stays dry, earthy and combustible, like a Virginia tobacco blend, it has a lot to say and says it well…[Hens] sees this book as a chance finally to put the urge behind him, to comprehend it, seal it and bury it…Like any author worth reading, Mr. Hens is sometimes best when he goes off-topic, dispatching obiter dicta…His lapidary prose will sometimes put you in mind of the chain-smoking Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s…” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times 

“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

 

“Nicotine is a serious investigation. Hens’ memories — spun as stories, for he is a piquant, enchanting storyteller — follow one after another, though not before they have been surgically dissected for elements of self-discovery lurking in that memory’s cigarette. Will Self’s introduction is a gloriously mad prelude, dragging luxuriously, gratifyingly on tobaccos of ‘Stygian darkness and Samsonian strength,’ which, the nicotine rapidly absorbed, jump-starts the nasty state of withdrawal, ‘and thus mistakes the relief of these symptoms’…While Hens searches for his addiction’s source — genetics, Freudian, exposure — and submits to hypnosis’ trance, he offers flashes of Cigarette Power [and] despite qualms that the last cigarette might extinguish his access to literarily fertile material, Nicotine is proof positive that Hens still has the stuff.”— The San Francisco Chronicle 

 

“Cigarettes function as punctuation for life, argues Gregor Hens, a German author and translator. They make it coherent and add drama, inserting commas, semi-colons and ellipses (and, in the end, an inarguable and often premature full stop). Smoking is bad for you, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.” —Economist, 'Books of the Year 2017' Selection

 

“Nicotine is a book about cigarettes merely on its surface, but it feels important that Hens opens with the sheer volume he’s smoked to illustrate, if nothing else, how significantly this object is entwined in his past. Hens no longer smokes, but the question now is: what have all these cigarettes meant, and where does he go from here? What makes this story, and other addiction narratives, so captivating is that, according to Hens, they frequently function as often unexpected insights.”  — Kirkus Reviews 

 

“Nicotine is nothing like a manual for giving up smoking; it does not berate the smoker or extol the healthy benefits of giving up the habit. It is more like an ode, ironic but poetic, to the eponymous drug that does irreversible damage, yet gives its user a sensation of control and calm, of time-passing and occasion-remembering that is hard to set aside once one has experienced it. While Hens has clearly quit, and notes good reasons for doing so, including the simple ability to choose to do what he wants, he does not condemn the sinner...or the sin.” – BookReporter.com

 

“Nicotine is a fascinating examination of the powerful physical and psychological hold that tobacco holds over its addicts, as viewed through the life experiences of German writer and translator Gregor Hens. Packed with highly personal insights that only someone with a decades-long smoking habit could summon, Nicotine is both a sobering testament to the power of tobacco’s icy grip as well as a counterbalance to the demonizing social pressures that lead many to finally quit.” — World Literature Today