Barbara Honigmann, who was born in East Berlin on February 12, 1949, is the most distinguished German-Jewish writer of the generations born after the Holocaust. Her father, Georg Honigmann, Ph.D. (1903–1984), who was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, emigrated to Great Britain in 1933 but later returned to the GDR, where he was a prominent journalist and film producer. Her mother, Alice (née Kohlmann, 1910–1984), was born in Vienna and emigrated to Great Britain in 1934. She worked in film dubbing. The couple divorced in 1954.
Barbara studied theater at Humboldt University in Berlin before beginning her career as a theater director, painter, and writer. In 1981 she married Peter Oberman, who later took her surname. They had two children: Johannes (b. 1976) and Ruben (b. 1983). In 1984 Honigmann moved to Strasbourg, France, where she continues to write in German. Her prose collections include Roman von einem Kinde (Novel About a Child, 1986), Eine Liebe aus Nichts (A Love Out of Nothing, 1991) Soharas Reise (Sohara’s Journey, 1996) and Alles, alles Liebe (1999). She has also published several collections of essays, Am Sonntag spielt der Rabbi Fußball (On Sundays, the Rabbi Plays Soccer, 1998), and Damals, Dann, Danach (In Those Days, After That, and Later, 1999). She is the recipient of many literary prizes, among them Germany’s prestigious Kleist Preis in 2000 and the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2004.
In her subtle prose Honigmann portrays the conundrums of Jews born after the Holocaust in the country that was responsible for the genocide. The experiences of Honigmann’s characters often resemble those of the author herself: they grapple with the difficulties of living as Jews in Germany—most of them leaving Germany for France, like the author—while remaining rooted in the German language and committed to Germany’s cultural traditions. Her first novel, Eine Liebe aus Nichts, describes the young heroine’s displacement from the cultural center of East Germany to Paris and the problems of settling in a cultural and linguistic context that remains foreign to her despite the many attractions it offers for a Jewish life. In Sohara’s Reise, Honigmann is even closer to her own chosen home when she situates the narrative in the orthodox community of Strasbourg, France. In this setting of learning she portrays the clashes between the religious and cultural traditions among the members of the community: exploring the different experiences of the Sephardim and Ashkenazim gathered in the Jewish quarter (postcolonialism, Holocaust, language barriers, etc.), Honigmann sheds light on the prospering yet highly diverse Jewish community of contemporary France. But her perspective also includes a strong awareness of the situation of women both in the world of secular cultural production and in the religious practices of Judaism—a perspective that informs her fiction by focusing on female Jewish characters in their complex relationships to men and her essays by reconsidering the traditions of female Jewish artists.
Roman von einem Kinde. Frankfurt: 1986; Eine Liebe aus Nichts. Berlin: 1991; Soharas Reise. Berlin: 1996; Am Sonntag spielt der Rabbi Fußball. Munich: 1998; Alles, alles Liebe. Munich: 1999; Damals, Dann, Danach. Munich: 2000.
Nolden, Thomas. Junge jüdische Literatur. Würzburg: 1995; Stern, Guy. “Barbara Honigmann: A Preliminary Assessment.” In Insiders and Outsiders, edited by D. Lorenz and C. Weinberger. Detroit: 1994.