Gregor Hens translated from the German by Jen Calleja


Publication Date: Jan 10, 2017

160 pp


List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5 x 7.5
ISBN: 978-1-59051-793-2


List Price US $7.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-794-9

With an introduction by Will Self

By turns philosophical and darkly comic, an ex-smoker’s meditation on the nature and consequences of his nearly lifelong addiction 

Written with the passion of an obsessive, Nicotine addresses a lifelong addiction, from the thrill of the first drag to the perennial last last cigarette. Reflecting on his experiences as a smoker from a young age, Gregor Hens investigates the irreversible effects of nicotine on thought and patterns of behavior. He extends the conversation with other smokers to meditations on Mark Twain and Italo Svevo, the nature of habit, and the validity of hypnosis. With comic insight and meticulous precision, Hens deconstructs every facet of dependency, offering a brilliant analysis of the psychopathology of addiction.

This is a book about the physical, emotional, and psychological power of nicotine as not only an addictive drug, but also a gateway to memory, a long trail of streetlights in the rearview mirror of a smoker’s life. Cigarettes are sometimes a solace, sometimes a weakness, but always a witness and companion.

This is a meditation, an ode, and a eulogy, one that will be passed hand-to-hand between close friends.

Excerpt from Nicotine

My beautiful, taciturn mother stood on the pavement in the cold night with her hands in the sleeves of her fur coat and gave me a half-sad, half-amused look. You have to pull on it, she said again. I pulled. What else could I have done? I took a drag on the cigarette and felt the smoke, which I had imagined to be warmer, fill my mouth, rise into my nose, and lie burning on my eyes, which I had to close, while I snorted out the smoke in shock. But before I’d completely released it, I had to breathe in, and so I started coughing on the pavement with burning, running eyes until my mother banged me on the back. My reaction unleashed general merriment among the drunk adults.


I took a few more drags on my cigarette that New Year’s Eve and lit rockets with increasing assurance. I’d soon learned to close up the epiglottis in my mouth when pulling in the smoke, protecting me from more coughing fits and the derision of the adults. In the years that followed, we children were given one or two cigarettes every New Year’s Eve (depending on how much money my father had spent on fireworks), and it wasn’t long before my thrill of anticipation for the cigarettes far outstripped my anticipation for the fireworks. When I see a firework, I still get the taste of this long, thin Kim on my tongue and remember with great warmth the sad-beautiful eyes of my mother, who handed me cigarettes as if they were something sacrosanct.

“If Nicotine has a literary progenitor I would say that it is In Search of Lost Time … an extraordinary act of literary finesse…[with] tinkling little notes of comedy… [a] dark, lovely, funny book.” The New Yorker

“A satisfying wisp of an essay about tobacco, addiction, first cigarettes, last cigarettes, breathing, kissing, hypnosis, literature, memory, and marking time… Nicotine is a smoke ring, blown perfectly in a single puff, or—better?—a wafting trail of vapor. Will Self contributes a foreword, a rapid monologue punctuated with vigorous little twists, as though he were grinding out a stub with yellow-stained fingers.” Harper’s

“Hens’s short book is an idiosyncratic and thought-provoking essay on the grip of nicotine, how it shaped his life, and how it still factors into his life despite having quit smoking decades ago… Hens gives readers an understanding of what it is like to have an addiction, albeit a legal one, and how the end of an addiction can be felt as a loss.” —Publishers Weekly

“In his unorthodox and candid memoir, German writer and translator Hens discusses his longtime addiction to cigarettes, his eventual recovery, and the ongoing battle with his addictive personality to fight the ever present urge to smoke. . . The author is an idiosyncratic stylist whose sentences are often terse and elliptical, and Calleja’s translation ably captures his unique voice. In a book that is as much a paean to smoking as it is a eulogy, Hens is both poetic and unforgiving about the pleasures and pains of smoking.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The writing is detailed, fluid and sensual … Smoking and cigarettes might not be good for the health of the body, but Hens’s glimpse through the prism of addiction offers an enriching and enlightening account that benefits the mind and the soul.” Shelf Awareness

“Every cigarette I’ve ever smoked now seems, in retrospect, like little more than preparation for this remarkable essay—though nothing in me could have anticipated its exquisitely surprising brilliance, the precision and play of its intellect. It’s about smoking, sure, but it’s also about a luminous and nuanced exploration of how we’re constituted by our obsessions, how our memories arrange themselves inside of us, and how—or if—we control our own lives.” —Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

“Hens endured and he wrote about it, resulting in this excellent personal work on the fetishisation, the ceremony and the compulsions of the smoker. . . Nicotine is a meandering journey through a life of everyday addiction, soaked in memories stained sepia by tobacco smoke. . . The writing is superb, an unclassifiable mix of freeform thought and transcribed memory, reminiscent of the wonderful essayist Geoff Dyer. Its malleable structure, through sheer skill and confidence, allow the many digressions to remain ever valid and precise. . . Insightful and honest.” —The Skinny

“This is not a story about quitting, but an accomplished and unsettling meditation on one’s own addiction.” —Die Zeit

“This book is not an advice manual, nor an attempt to account for an addiction, but rather a gripping investigation: What was that first cigarette like, that first conscious inhalation of nicotine, which moments are inseparable from smoking and always will be? —Deutschlandradio Kultur

“A passionate attempt to banish the addiction through words.” —sf magazin