Published: Flamingo Magazine, November 2006
Most people will always keep a respectful distance from the inhospitable Namibian desert regions, just too aware of the lurking dangers. Some end up in the desert by sheer coincidence or fate, while only a few adventure-seeking romantics are instantly attracted by the mysteries and the hidden treasures of the Namib Desert. Yet the desert’s diverse treasures are destined to be discovered only by a few open-minded seekers.
In 1907 August Stauch, a German railway worker who was plagued by serious asthma attacks followed the advice of his doctor to seek out a dryer climate and moved to the German colony Deutsch-Südwestafrika. While working on a railway line in the Namib Desert he discovered diamonds. The incessant wind had gradually uncovered layer upon layer of eroded earth and the desert now presented its sparkling treasures on a silver plate, to be simply picked up from the barren surface of the earth. Instantly many lives were transformed. August Stauch became rich overnight, sleepy Lüderitzbucht turned into a lively and important harbour town, Kolmannskuppe, grew out of nowhere in the middle of the desert into a luxurious settlement and Deutsch-Südwestafrika changed from an almost unnoticed, bleak territory into a significant and valuable German colony.
Exactly a century later Namibia once again offers the world a gem of another kind. At the Frankfurter Buchmesse, one of Germany’s foremost publishers, Club Bertelsmann, has unveiled the latest book by “the most prominent African author in German literature” Namibian Giselher W. Hoffmann. ‘Diamantenfieber’ is Hoffmann’s 7th novel and its accompanying audio CD has already reached the 5th place on the Bertelsmann best-selling list.
Like a diamond, Giselher W. Hoffmann’s writing talent matured almost unnoticed over many years. And just like recognizing a diamond amidst other stones and then carefully cutting it into a sparkling brilliance, it took determination and careful, hard work to perfect the talent and turn a professional Namibian hunter into an international, best-selling author.
Not every sparkling stone is a diamond and not everyone who picks up a pen and writes a story is an international author. Although Giselher W. Hoffmann states, that “Literature comes to you and not the other way around…” it takes a special ability and undeterred willpower to rise above the rest and make your mark in the world. Initially nobody recognized his talent and there were no publishers interested in publishing his first novel, which he has written in co-authorship with his twin brother. This has led him to launch his own publishing company in Namibia. After he published a few books himself he finally caught the interest of publishers in Germany, like Club Bertelsmann. Not only are his books now published internationally, he was also invited on numerous stipends to Germany and awarded with the renowned literature prize of Club Bertelsmann in 2000.
Hoffmann has always used Namibian historical settings, filled them with utterly convincing characters and wrapped it all into an exhilarating story about human strength and weaknesses. In his novels he has dedicated the centre stage every time to a different Namibian ethnic group and thus presents his audience with a sensitive insight into the many different communities of Namibia and their interaction. In “Die Erstgeborenen” the focus is on the Gwi and their reaction to the first white settlers in Namibia, “Die schweigenden Feuer” takes a Herero stance at the German-Herero war in 1904, “Schattenjäger” is a portrait of the Himba and the threat of loosing their land to the planned Epupa Dam, while “Die verlorenen Jahre” tells the story of women of German descend in Namibia whose husbands, fathers and sons were interned by the British for several years during the second World War. By carefully creating complex, individual characters and empathetically accompanying them on their journey through the story he succeeds in exposing the complexities, problems and challenges of the times and societies he describes, without sounding didactic or judgemental. His sensitive approach provides an authentic and informative portrait steering clear of any clichéd or prejudice view of Africa or its inhabitants.
“I am aware that we as a nation are in a stage of transformation and have to grow together. We can only do that if we open our view and look past the edge of our own plates.” says Hoffmann. With his novels he hopes to introduce different communities to each other, to build bridges towards a better understanding and acceptance. Besides being able to easily slip into somebody else’s skin, Hoffmann also recognizes that growing up on a farm with Herero people, hunting with a Gwi and spending lots of time in the remote Kaokoland, enables him to have a better insight into different cultures and thus to act as a mediator.
In his latest novel, Diamantenfieber (Diamond Fever) Giselher W. Hoffmann turns to the discovery of diamonds in the Namib Desert and investigates the effect this had on the different communities and persons involved. As the cover of the book promises it is “…a thrilling historical novel about love and hate, greed and revenge and a breathtaking adventure under the wide African sky.” Hoffmann exposes the frailty of human nature when confronted with sudden, immense wealth and gives an insightful account of Namibia’s history through this magnificent novel.
The wealth and attention which came to Lüderitzbucht and its surroundings through August Stauch’s discovery of raw diamonds, as described in Diamantenfieber, might now be repeated on a different level in Namibian history. Those who observe the happenings in Namibia closely might recognise the current emergence of a variety of Namibian cultural and intellectual talent on the world stage, which promises to uniquely enrich not only Namibia, but also the rest of the world.
The book is written in German and is available through Club Bertelsmann and selected Namibian bookstores. Giselher W. Hoffmann is currently living in Berlin.
Text by Imke Rust (c)