View All Available Formats & Editions


A heartwrenching tale of a family's dissolution told from a child's crystalline perspective. Luck is the beautiful, bittersweet, and very funny novel about a nuclear family living in a small German townwonderfully translated by Gert Hofmann's son, acclaimed translator and poet Michael Hofmann. It begins and ends on the same day, the "last day" of the narrator's childhood as he prepares to leave home with Father, because Mother is waiting for her new man to arrive, and his sister will stay behind. Or will they really leave? Mother sits in her room, squirting herself with perfume. Father endlessly postpones his packing, hoping for a magical conversation that will mend his marriage. His little sister spits on her new dress, and asks....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811216074
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 11/28/2004
Pages: 266
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Gert Hofmann (1931–1993) was a German writer and educator. He worked for a time for the University of Edinburgh as a lecturer in modern German literature and has received many awards, most recently the Independent Foreign Fiction Award in 1996 for "The Film Explainer."

The poet Michael Hofmann has won numerous prizes for his German translations.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


By the time Father started packing, it had been light for ages. The birds were all over the garden, stuffing themselves on our worms. Father was standing in his favourite place, in front of the window. He wasn't happy, though.

    This is a sad day, he said, the heavens should be weeping!

    And then he was quiet again. We were in his study, with my sister standing between us. She pressed her nose against the glass and made a greasy mark. Every so often, someone walked past, preceded by the sound of their footsteps. Some said hello, or waved up at us. My sister was right next to me. She hadn't washed yet. Her arms were full of a half a dozen or so dolls that she was clutching to herself. All her nails were chewed, especially the ones on her left hand. Mother was already up too, but she was in her room. She hadn't gone to the office, because it was a Saturday and she was expecting Herr Herkenrath, who wanted to marry her. She was probably making herself beautiful for him. Father, who was naturally beautiful, said: That primping and preening won't do any good! She can preenand primp all she likes.

    And what are we going to do now? asked my sister.

    Ha, said Father, that's always the question! There's a writer, I forget his name now ...

    Do you mean Thomas Mann? my sister asked.

    Never mind the name! In essence, said Father, there was only one difference between him and me. He was a bit taller. Then Father was going to say something else, but he forgot it. He and my sister and I had gotourselves ready to go out together for the last time. But then he suddenly put his walking stick down again. He unbuttoned his jacket and sat down. He was relieved "to get the weight off his feet". He spread his legs as far as he could. Not a pleasant sight for any onlookers, I freely admit, he said, but how else is a man to sit? Then he tweaked at a hair in his beard, and said: The weather, unless I'm mistaken ...

    What about the weather? asked my sister, and Father said: There's this pressure, at least I feel it! I have a sense of something hanging over me.

    And what about me? asked my sister, Is it hanging over me too?

    Yes, said Father, it's hanging over you too, but up to a point, up to a point! Then he took a deep breath and said: I feel I'm being driven into the ground, if you take my meaning. He looked at his watch, because there was still a lot to be done. But he was ready. He had his beret in his hand, his stick, and so on. That was the one he went on walks with. He liked swinging it around, only not in the house. He didn't want anything getting smashed to smithereens. He had got into the habit of swinging his stick around many, many years ago, when he had still been happy. There, he said, pointing to the corner by the window, that is the corner I used to sit in, and you used to come and sit, one of you on each knee.

    And then? asked my sister.

    Then I used to give you rides, and I was happy too, he said. As he was a creature of habit, his walking stick always had to accompany him. Without it, he felt like he "didn't exist". It was a length of smooth linden wood. He had peeled it and sharpened it, long before our time. So I can hit back, he said, if I'm set upon.

    And where will you hit them?

    Where do you think? About their heads!

    And then?

    Then, he said, there'll be a couple of villains less in the world!

    The handle of his stick was worn and dark, "because dark, not light, is the natural colour of things in this world". Then he laid his stick aside, and fiddled with his beret. It was the kind of beret that artists liked to wear. He had stolen it.

    A writer I have quite a lot of time for also had a beret, he said. He didn't wear it much, though, so no one knows.

    Just you, said my sister, right?

    Yes, said Father, just me!

    A mourning ribbon was fixed to his beret, you could see it from some way off. It wasn't long and thin, the way they mostly are, but short and broad. That made his grief more visible. When my sister saw the mourning ribbon for the first time, she asked: Has anyone died?

    Father shook his head and said: No, not yet! Is someone going to? she asked, and he said: It's a sign.

    A sign of what?

    Of the fact that, after protracted suffering, my marriage with your mother has—barring some miracle—gone on, said Father, and gave a little tug at the mourning ribbon.

    He was much given to sweating. When he sweated, it was on his forehead and his palms. They were always damp. Just like they were today, because it turned out to be a bright, warm, universal sort of day, in May, 1960. Then again, it wasn't so warm that he absolutely had to sweat. Father reached for his handkerchief and said: Misfortune is approaching! Then he pointed in various directions, and asked: Will it be from here? From here? From here? He didn't know yet. It would be a surprise. With some effort, he got up and walked—crept—across the room. He reached the window and looked out. The moving van would come up this street—the Jakobsstrasse—to fetch us, only we couldn't see it yet. It would come to a stop outside our door, and stay there for a little while. For the time being, it was still safely in its garage. But never fear, said Father, it will come, just as surely as we're standing here now, when we should be making tracks. The front gardens on either side were dry, unseasonably dry, he said. When I went into the kitchen and ran the cold tap, there was only a thin trickle. Father would stand beside me and watch the trickle. Sometimes he held his finger-tip under it, and said: Look, now I'm going to toughen myself up! At other times, he couldn't even drag himself as far as the kitchen, he said he was too exhausted. The real reason was that he didn't want to run into Mother, because he didn't know what sort of expression he should put on, and what he should say to her. Because that's always the question when you run into your wife in the corridor: What sort of expression do you put on, he said. When he sat sweating at his desk and I asked: Don't you want to come to the kitchen with me and cool your hands, Mother isn't around! he said: You're younger than me, and you need it more, because your blood is warmer and circulates more quickly. You go and do it for me! When I came back from the tap, and he asked: Well, how was it? I said: Oh, there was just a trickle! And it was lukewarm!

    I can't say I'm surprised, Father would say, and, because Mother was divorcing him: The whole world is out of kilter!

    Being a writer of a kind, he was given to poetic turns of phrase, so we often couldn't understand him. He would generally be leaning against the wall in his favourite corner. There was a postcard from Switzerland hanging that he'd framed and used to look at a lot. And as he looked, he would say: Yes, addressed to me! It was handwritten, and came from Thomas Mann. Years ago, Father had written to him once and told him he wasn't getting on too well with a novel that was going to be called The Magic Table, and Thomas Mann had written back, saying he wasn't getting on too well with his novel that was going to be called Felix Krull: Confessions of a Confidence Trickster either. Father showed the postcard to everyone, regardless of whether they wanted to see it or not. He had always meant to write back, but before he got around to it, Thomas Mann had died. A pity, said Father, now he'll always think of me as discourteous! Perhaps he might have written to me again. At least I've got the one! There are people who have a great deal on their minds!

    You mean like you? my sister asked, and Father said:

    Yes, like me!

    As he didn't know how things would develop with Mother, he often assembled us in his study when he wanted to talk to us, and locked the door. Then he would give us advice that he had garnered in the course of a stupid life. Be sure to take a good look at the world in which I put you in a moment of weakness, and you arrived pretty promptly too. And at the times, which are ours to share, if only for a year or two. Because you must know that world and time go together, you don't get one without the other. So be open to everything, because now something new is beginning, for you and for me, he said cheerfully to me. At any rate, he wanted to appear cheerful. Did you understand?

    Which bit, asked my sister, the bit about being open?


    No, said my sister, not really!

    From one particular day on—it threatened rain to begin with, but later turned out fine—he spoke to me as to a grown-up. He even straightened his tie for me, if he happened to be wearing one. Then he would take me by the arm and say: Do you have a moment, young man! and pull me into his room. My sister tagged along unasked. Then we stood around for a long time, scuffing the furniture. Because he had forgotten by now whatever he had wanted to say to me, he didn't say much, something like: Well, why not! or: Was there anything else? If he wanted to talk to me for longer, he didn't just launch into it now, he gave some thought to how he was going to put it. I wasn't to misunderstand him. He even permitted interruptions. You want to say something, don't you? he would ask, I can see it in your face. Well, spit it out! I don't want you to be able to say later on that your father never let you get a word in edgeways, and that you had a mute and oppressed childhood.

     It wasn't important, I said.

    Everything my boy wants to say is important! Come on, out with it! he said.

    And what about what I want to say, do I have to spit that out too? asked my sister.

    Certainly, said Father, albeit ... Well, he said, up to a point.


The day he moved out with me and Herr Herkenrath arrived to take his place—so that there are no vacancies in the wedded world, he said—I got up early. I couldn't stay in bed any longer. I went into the kitchen and stood around there for a long time. Then my sister turned up.

    Are you really moving out? she asked me.

    Yes, I said, today!

    And when are you coming back? she asked, and I said: Never!


Excerpted from LUCK by Gert Hofmann. Copyright © 1992 by Carl Hanser Verlag. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews