Summary and book reviews of The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann

The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures

by Jennifer Hofmann

The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann X
The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Aug 2020, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

An audacious debut that combines spycraft, betrayals, and reversals to show that sometimes it's the secret that destroys you.

On November 9, 1989, Bernd Zeiger, a Stasi officer in the twilight of his career, is deteriorating from a mysterious illness. Alarmed by the disappearance of Lara, a young waitress at his regular café with whom he is obsessed, he chases a series of clues throughout Berlin. The details of Lara's vanishing trigger flashbacks to his entanglement with Johannes Held, a physicist who, twenty-five years earlier, infiltrated an American research institute dedicated to weaponizing the paranormal.

Now, on the day the Berlin Wall falls and Zeiger's mind begins to crumble, his past transgressions have come back to haunt him. Who is the real Lara, what happened to her, and what is her connection to these events? As the surveiller becomes the surveilled, all will be revealed, with shocking consequences. Set in the final, turbulent days of the Cold War, The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures blends the high-wire espionage of John le Carré with the brilliant absurdist humor of Milan Kundera to evoke the dehumanizing forces that turned neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. Jennifer Hofmann's debut is an affecting, layered investigation of conscience and country.



1
1.1

Something must have happened. Bernd Zeiger had snored himself awake and did not know where he was. A wedge of light on the ceiling caught his eye. He followed its journey as it stretched and narrowed until the car from which it came disappeared down the road. Darkness returned to the bedroom like a calamity.

It was November, strong westerly winds and a drizzle. He strained his eyes into the shadows. A wooden dresser loomed next to his bed, dark and wide like the hull of a ship. A nightstand held up a clock and a tall glass of water. He looked at his things as if they were not his things, as if someone had entered and exchanged all his things for replicas of the things he should know. Lara, he remembered, was gone.

The wheezing nozzle of a cleaning vehicle approached along the cobblestone street. It hummed and rattled as it suctioned debris from the road. Loose newspaper pages, wet leaves, abandoned tin toys, umbrella skeletons, the bloated bodies of rats. Small-scale ...

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The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures defies easy categorization and the reader's expectations to provide a nuanced portrayal of aging and the hollow feelings of loneliness and futility that may come along with it. Zeiger is (for the most part) a sympathetic protagonist, as he has committed his heart, soul and life to the GDR, only to be cast aside as irrelevant. Hofmann also expertly ties together the disparate threads — the missing waitress, Zeiger's illness, the teleportation experiment and the torture of Johannes Held — into a polished finished product. A genre hybrid with a mystery at its core, the novel is not perfect but it's an enigma well worth puzzling over for the quality of the writing alone...continued

Full Review Members Only (790 words).

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
[I]n this era of death and gaslighting, there’s something cathartic about Jennifer Hofmann’s debut novel. She’s created a story that John le Carré might have written for The Twilight Zone, the tale of a spy who comes in from the cold while his world turns inside out...Hofmann, who lives in Berlin, writes with a wit so dry that it allows her to retain complete deniability...The result is a rare novel that encourages you to read as though your sanity depends on it — just a little further, just a little faster. It’s an unsettling simulation of living in a state that denies basic facts and perpetuates the most inane claims. Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, one wishes this mind-set didn’t feel quite so familiar.

New York Times
Hofmann portrays this pervasive sense of syncope through rhythmic prose and powerful allusions to faith in an amoral world...But the capsizing, which reaches a pinnacle at the novel’s clever, dramatic end — a testament to the manual’s perfect triumph — may nonetheless be too neat a resolution, historically. East Germany imploded, but neither its creation nor its demise was as vacuous as the novel suggests.

Booklist
Despite nourish trappings and some clever plot reversals, Hofmann's novel is noteworthy not for its riff on the espionage-thriller genre, but for using a surreal historical moment to explore broader points about the collapse of ideals and the corrosiveness of secrecy.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[E]nrapturing...the novel hovers between genres like a subatomic particle between states. All the more impressive, Hoffman's exceptional debut never loses sight of the desires, mysteries, and small acts of rebellion that persist within dehumanizing systems.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A remarkable first novel that reads like the work of a seasoned pro...Hofmann writes in assured prose of carefully chosen details that mark the best period fiction...she conjures up dark comedy in an understated, quirky satire of the Stasi's bureaucracy and cruelty and the paranoia that permeated East Germany.

Author Blurb Matthew Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
Gorgeous, dark, and haunted...a masterpiece of restraint, insight, and style...There is an extraordinary clarity of perception in these pages and one is astonished time and again at Jennifer Hofmann's prodigious gifts...It is a singular feat for a book about subject matter this chilling to make the reader feel so deeply; and yet that is part of the work of timeless literature, which is what this incandescent novel surely will come to be regarded as.

Author Blurb David Bezmozgis, author of the National Jewish Book Award winner The Betrayers
A beautiful and haunting novel that will linger in the minds of its readers...The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures challenges the reader to separate the fantastical from the merely bizarre. Is it the state or its citizens who are losing their minds? And how much repression can the human heart and soul withstand?

Author Blurb Jaroslav Kalfar, author of Spaceman of Bohemia, finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
A masterful waltz...an endlessly captivating puzzle...Despite the seemingly doomed world in which the novel takes place, Hofmann manages to dazzle us with brilliant humor, unrivaled insight, and fragments of hope...The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures is a hilarious, humanist, gorgeously written treatise on the currents that stir the human soul under the direst circumstances...it is easily the best novel I've encountered this year, brilliant and funny and profound, producing some of the most complex, fascinating characters I've ever known...an instant classic.

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Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Prison

The site of Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Prison in 2011 At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones governed by France, Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1949, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), also referred to as East Germany, was formed as a communist state in the Soviet territory. The most notorious apparatus of the GDR's repressive government was the Ministry for State Security, aka the Stasi. The Stasi was the government's intelligence division/secret police, and throughout the GDR's 41 years of existence, it was known for its surveillance, torture and murder of dissidents (and suspected dissidents).

In 1951, the Stasi took ownership of a building in northeastern Berlin that had previously served as a Soviet detainment ...

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