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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hoffman's Hunger

Leon de Winter

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Hoffman's Hunger

Title: Hoffman's Hunger
Author: Leon de Winter
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 1995)
Length: 303 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Hoffman's Hunger - US
Hoffman's Hunger - UK
Hoffman's Hunger - Canada
Hoffman's Hunger - India
La faim de Hoffman - France
Hoffmans Hunger - Deutschland
Una fame senza fine - Italia
  • Dutch title: Hoffman's honger
  • Translated by Arnold and Erica Pomerans
  • Hoffman's honger was made into a film in 1993, directed by Leon de Winter and starring Elliott Gould and Jacqueline Bisset

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-done and very entertaining character study

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A- 3/11/2007 Rowan Somerville
The Jerusalem Post . 27/3/2008 Calev Ben-David
Publishers Weekly . 24/9/2007 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "De Winter excels in his treatment of the central character: the psychological subtlety of Hoffman’s suffering, the descriptions of his bingeing and subsequent evacuations, and the parallels between the stagnation of the communist order and Hoffman’s digestive stasis. The writing becomes less compelling the further away we are from the protagonist. The espionage sub-plot is more functional than engrossing and much of the characterisation is insubstantial (...) Since Hoffman's Hunger is a book of ideas more than people, the moral drama at the heart of the novel overcomes loose characterisation or weakness in the plotting." - Rowan Somerville, Financial Times

  • "The thriller aspects of Hoffman's Hunger never quite convinced this reader, and the book works best as a moving character study of the title character, an intelligent and sensitive man who nevertheless finds himself badly buffeted by both large- and small-scale events that are out of his control." - Calev Ben-David, The Jerusalem Post

  • "De Winter's original slant on a straightforward plot of Eastern bloc intrigue creates a resonant portrait of a conflicted man in a conflicted era." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       "In your case hunger is a mental thing," one of the characters in Hoffman's Hunger is told right at the beginning of the novel. The diagnosis applies to the central figure in the novel, Felix Hoffman, too, but in this case it is addressed at another overweight man who can't control himself, American tourist and successful businessman Freddy Mancini, who has just wolfed down four steaks in Prague. He's there with his wife; they are vacationing in Europe and among their stops is this still-Communist -- it's the summer of 1989 -- country. His insatiable hunger leads Freddy out into the Prague night, where he manages to stumble into quite a mess: first he gets himself robbed, and then he witnesses the abduction of another member of the tour group.
       It turns out that what Freddy saw was the abduction of an American intelligence agent, and he is flown back to the States to be debriefed. Hoffman's Hunger isn't a fully-developed Cold War thriller, but De Winter effectively uses this sub-plot which eventually leads the two hungry men of this novel (who are already prone to impulsive actions) to act very foolishly, threatening what they have left (while both seem fairly successful, they have, in fact, suffered devastating, life-changing losses -- Felix years earlier, Freddy in the course of the novel).
       Felix is the newly appointed Dutch Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Fifty-nine, it's his first ambassadorial posting -- a bone thrown to him at the end of his career -- and though "Prague was renowned as a dull posting" he's glad to be able to end his diplomatic career this way. Felix has never gotten over the loss of his twin daughters, one dying of leukemia as a child, the other overdosing years later. It also ended, for all intents and purposes, his marriage: they've come to an arrangement -- he still lives together with Marian -- and their grief makes for something of a bond, but they're hardly man and wife.
       De Winter expertly lets the story unfold, slowly filling in more and more of the details of Felix's life and how he's come to this. While not living a life of pure excess, he's gone overboard often enough to damage his career, and in Prague, too, there are many unrestrained moments. Yes, he's always hungry (literally as well as figuratively), and he can never find what might sate him. Even preserving the memory of his daughters proves almost overwhelming (and costs him the stash of paintings he was counting on as his retirement money).
       A final link (a bit convenient, but plausible enough) connecting Freddy and Felix is the CIA handler John Marks who is obsessive-compulsive in a different way, well-suited, presumably, to tidy things up. A puppet-master, he uses both Freddy and Felix -- but they hoist themselves pretty much by their own petards. Fortunately, De Winter doesn't overdo the spy-angle, either, making it all the more effective.
       Hoffman's Hunger is a fairly typical De Winter novel, a character-study of a (nominally Jewish) man wrestling with his demons and his past and trying somehow to come to grips with it -- flailing wildly about as he does. Many of the usual De Winter-novel elements are there: lost loves and distanced lovers, heaps of excess -- besides the food his characters overdo it with alcohol and sex, of course -- as well as periods of abstinence. But it's all put together and told very well and the elements and settings he uses -- diplomatic life (in Africa, South America, and Europe), Eastern Europe on the verge of breaking free from the Soviet yoke, the lingering Cold War, porn films, international intrigue, and the insatiable appetites of Felix and Freddy -- make for a damn good story.
       Emotional but not too sentimental, funny, and even pretty exciting Hoffman's Hunger is a very good read. Certainly recommended.

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Hoffman's Hunger: Reviews: Hoffman's honger - the film: Leon de Winter: Other books by Leon de Winter under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Leon de Winter was born in 1954.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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