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Keith Garebian Reviews A Hunger Artist and Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love

Guernica’s first flip book and dual translation, A Hunger Artist and Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love, has been garnering media attention for exploring the relationship between Kafka and Langer, and to offer English readers a first glimpse into the poetry of Kafka’s long lost friend and contemporary. Keith Garebian is the latest reviewer to write about the book and offers his take on the dual translation.

A Hunger Artist and Other Stories

Garebian mentions the complications associated with translating the text from its original Hebrew: “In their close collaboration, the Wolffs wrestled with the question of how to render ‘an idiom, colour a word, or untangle a syntactical ambiguity in order to correctly and effectively convey meaning and evoke the elusive quality of tone in moving from Langer’s Hebrew to English.’” Certain end-rhymes simply did not have English equivalents, which made translating Langer’s poems that much harder for the duo. The Wolffs were also confronted with the problem that English does not mark gender to the degree that Hebrew does. “You, “friend,” “companion,” and “lover” are gender neutral in English, but not Hebrew. As such, the Wolffs had to improvise and use alliteration and assonance to replicate end-rhymes. Garebian acknowledges that the “Note on Translation” greatly added to his understanding and appreciation of the poems, as well as the history behind them.

Garebian asserts that Elana Wolff “is radically correct in identifying [Langer’s] poetry as one of ‘deferment, substitution, spiritual reaching, and deep existential sadness.’ Moreover, the very fact of her drawing a link between Kafka and Langer is a significant contribution to both men’s biographies and writings, and one that deserves scholarly study.”

Although Garebian focuses his review on the Langer half of the dual translation, he does mention that “Certainly, the selections that Kafka translator Thor Polson has brought to the Kafka half in the flipbook—fourteen pieces from A Country Doctor; four from A Hunger Artist—display his indulgence in fantastical allegory, sharp political satire, close observation of human behaviour, and wry wit—often given a potent torque by his dry, elliptical style.”

A Hunger Artist and Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love includes the work of both Franz Kafka and Georg Mordechai Langer. Franz Kafka’s writings are characterized by an extreme sensitivity manifested in absurdity, alienation, and gallows humor. The collections of short pieces, A Country Doctor (1919) and A Hunger Artist (1924), newly translated by Thor Polson, represent later works in the corpus. Poems and Songs of Love is a translation of the collection Piyyutim ve-Shirei Yedidot by Georg Mordechai Langer. Published in Prague in 1929, it contains an elegy to Langer’s friend and mentor Franz Kafka, and other openly homo-romantic poems. This collaborative translation by Elana and Menachem Wolff brings the fascinating work of Langer—poems as well as an essay on Kafka—to the English-reading public for the first time, and sheds light on a hitherto unexamined relationship.

To read the full review, you can visit Garebian’s website at:,%20peoms%20and%20song%20of%20love.htm#hunger

A Hunger Artist and Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love is available on the Guernica website at:

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