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This report is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

A Letter from Munich Chris Jenkin-Jones

Hermann Lenz, who celebrated his eightieth birthday this year, was born in Stuttgart. And in the family house in Stuttgart he spent the first sixty years of his life, excluding student and war years. (After studying Philosophy and History of Art in Heidelberg and Munich, Lenz was called up and eventually sent to Russia, ending as a prisoner of war in California. Otherwise he has travelled little.) Following his mother's death and sale of the house, Lenz and his half-Jewish wife, Hanne, were obliged to move to Munich, where they still live. At around the same time, he was being discovered by his thirty-year-junior colleague, Peter Handke. In 1978, Lenz received one of the most prestigious German literary awards, the Büchner Preis; other awards followed. All of which, and much more besides, is related in Lenz's masterly and incomparable fictional autobiography.

Up to the outbreak of war, he had produced and published a small body of poetry. After 1946, when he returned to Stuttgart and married, he worked on short stories and novels. Verlassene Zimmer, the first volume in the autobiographical sequence, came out in 1966; Herbstlicht, the eighth and last, in 1992.

I recall first asking for Hermann Lenz's books in Munich some eight or nine years ago, only to be told, 'You mean Siegfried Lenz.' By Herbstlicht, precisely this confusion of Hermann (in the novels Eugen Rapp) and his better-known namesake, has become something of a running joke. 'Who do you think has ...


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