PRAISE FOR NICOTINE

  

 

A dark, lovely, funny book ... 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 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 ... — The New York Times 

 

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 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 

 

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