The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures


By Jennifer Hofmann

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In a world of spycraft, betrayals, and reversals, a Stasi officer is unraveled by the cruel system he served and by the revelation of a decades-old secret, in this “story that John le Carré might have written for The Twilight Zone” (Washington Post).

A BuzzFeed Best Book of 2020

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, the mystery is both solved and deepened, with unexpected 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 and friend against friend. Jennifer Hofmann’s debut is an affecting, layered investigation of conscience and country.


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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 pandemonium. Zeiger pictured the driver as neckless and mustached, a sadist. Street cleaning arrived at 4:30, the loneliest hour. Beyond the receding noise of the vehicle the murmur of morning traffic echoed along Torstrasse. People driving to work, others returning from night shifts.

Zeiger’s legs were caught in a complicated knot of sheets, his pajamas twisted almost entirely the wrong way around. A hand was clasping the edge of a pillow, his own. These were his things. Dresser, nightstand, pajama, pillow. The ancient, indisputable objects of his life.

The alarm clock pierced a hole in the darkness. He slapped at it like he would at a gnat. It was more than two hours earlier than his usual time, but anticipation had outraced his alarm. A thump in the apartment next door announced Schreibmüller, his neighbor, a blind man who refused government aid like walking sticks or guide dogs and navigated spaces by bumping through them instead. There was the choppy rhythm of another language, Ukrainian perhaps. Despite his disability, Schreibmüller seemed to be surrounded by a harem of women and preferred, as far as Zeiger had learned from stairwell encounters over the last decades, Eastern types with sharp cheekbones and porcine eyes. He had considered asking Schreibmüller how, logistically speaking, a blind man could determine a type, but the occasion for it had never materialized. The world threw mysteries at him in passing.

At sixty, moving into an upright position in the morning felt like an unconquerable task. There was an indentation in his mattress from many years of sleeping and it enveloped the loose meat of his body like the arms of a wife. If you wake at this age without pain, you’re dead, an elderly woman had told someone in line at the Konsum. He had found that insightful. A lull in her voice suggested she longed for the latter state.

Management had assured him he would be finished at Hohenschönhausen jail by eight o’clock. The time he would, on normal days, go for cheese toast and milk coffee at the corner café, to see Lara, the waitress. He would keep his regular routine despite an irregular start to the day. That was a comfort, even if Lara had vanished several weeks ago.

A roar like that of an ailing beast echoed from the street. He stretched out an arm and yanked the cord of his nightstand lamp. Light replaced darkness; after street cleaning came trash collection. There was an order to things. Above the sound of the truck, garbage men hollered to one another, shouting combatively. Zeiger rolled toward the nightstand, gaped into the dusty light. He dropped his legs off the side of the bed. His feet found his slippers, gravity popped his bones into position. He rested his forearms on his knees, letting the folds of his body expand. Then he plucked his bathrobe from the hook by the nightstand and draped it over his shoulders. It took a moment to absorb the heat of his body.

The coal oven was a moody piece of work and needed constant attention. There would be no use in firing it up this morning. It would take a good half hour and periodic poking of the embers even to warm the tiles, an hour before the bedroom was fully heated. He’d be in Hohenschönhausen by then. After Hohenschönhausen, the café, then an ordinary day at his desk, followed by another press conference in the evening he’d been ordered to observe. Thursday meant Ketwurst day at the Ministry cafeteria, something to look forward to.

The woman on the phone the night before, a low-level secretary no doubt, had all but screamed at him, sounding shrill and panic-stricken, like a woman in the habit of losing her child in strange places. Hysteria was trickling down the ranks. He was to report to Hohenschönhausen jail for the interrogation of someone or other, she said. Bitteschön, Dankeschön, gute Nacht, Kamerad Zeiger. It had been more than twenty years since he was last at the jail. 

There was another thump next door, followed by a gargling of pipes, giggles, and splashing sounds, all of which suggested that Schreibmüller and his guest had moved their operation to the tub. Zeiger had the urge to pound the wall, but he resisted and rose from the bed. By the time he reached the window, dots were dancing before his eyes, things that were not there. Then Lara’s face appeared, a prim and taunting smile, which caused the air to escape from his lungs with an awful hacking sound. He found the windowsill and steadied himself, peering into blackness. Outside, the hollow rhythm of heels on cobblestones, the unoiled wheel of a bicycle, traffic. Inside, the sound of his own heart furiously pumping blood to his brain by way of his ears.

Only a few windows in the building opposite glowed with light. He saw no movements in them. Through a gap in the buildings, the TV tower antenna blinked with the soothing rhythm of a digital clock. The night sky was shrouded in clouds. Not long ago, streetlamps had been outfitted with high-watt bulbs in emergency orange. A color so glaring it obliterated any trace of a star. Streetlamps in West Berlin had retained their soft yellow glow, but, as Zeiger had noticed during occasional visits, the night sky there was still as tremendous and black as their own. He did not register that he was smoking until he had opened the window and rested his elbows on the iced ledge outside.

The bakery below was closed—it was not yet five o’clock—but a line had already formed. Seven early risers stood in thick coats and raised collars, their faces and shoulders turned against the wind. The streetlamp threw a distressing light on the scene, adding to it an air of quiet catastrophe. By Zeiger’s usual time, the line would have swollen and dispersed, and the bakery would have closed again, leaving a few latecomers to pace the corner like stray dogs. A woman in a towering ushanka arrived and placed herself at the end of the line, raising its count to eight. A man acknowledged her presence with a nod, then turned again to face the front of the line. Limited food and people trusting strangers with the naked planes of their backs. The pinnacle of human evolution. Zeiger smoked his cigarette down to the filter and tossed the butt out the window. After a brief flight it landed, spraying the ground with sparks, and died. No one looked up to seek out its origin.

The kitchen greeted him with a new shade of darkness and the bitter smell of cooked cabbage. He turned on the overhead light, then dropped an egg into a pot of water, stood over it as it boiled. He filled the coffee cooker, added a spoonful of coffee, put it on the stove, waited. This was not coffee. It was coffee, pea flour, and disgrace. This was Kaffee Mix and tasted like a nosebleed. One bad harvest in Brazil, a coffee shortage, and the largest revolts the Republic had seen since 1953. An entire nation with the jitters. Even well-stocked Intershops for foreigners and Party and Ministry officials had not sold real coffee in years. More than real coffee, Zeiger missed sweetbread loaves, which people now bought in bulk as exchange presents for relatives who sent real coffee from the West. There’d been talks of sweetbread-gifting prohibitions, which he had supported, but the Party had voted against it. He did not remember when he’d last seen a sweetbread loaf at the store. He’d have liked to buy one for Lara.

He retrieved an eggcup and placed it on the table. Shaped like a tiny rooster, complete with comb and wattle, it looked like child’s pottery. Methodically, he began freeing the egg from its shell, staring into the space above the table, his mind clean and shapeless.

Then something changed. This was an episode. They came on suddenly, and lately more frequently, and dissipated as quickly as they’d come. Epileptic seizure, old age, a sudden loss of blood flow to the brain, all of the above. When it was finished Zeiger surveyed the kitchen. The pot stood where he had placed it, steaming soundlessly on the stove. The coffee cooker, the emptied pouch of Kaffee Mix, the tent of soft light slicing the table and parts of the floor. His hand and a spoonful of egg white hovered in the air.

He had theories about these episodes. One, his brain had reached capacity. At his age, he had seen, absorbed, and forgotten many significant and insignificant things. These things were bound to get mangled; the old with the new, the known with the unknown, the certain with the uncertain. Nothing to worry about, alles in Ordnung. Two, enlightenment. The physicist Johannes Held, his onetime friend, had once told him about hermit monks who emerged from their caves, tattered and emaciated, to see everything as changed. A tree was no longer a tree but a field of energy to which their minds attributed treeness, or so he’d said. Zeiger had not fully grasped that revelation, but in moments like these, he wondered. Three, Lara. Four, death. He was dying and these episodes were the harbingers of a vast emptiness to come.

He placed the spoon back in the rooster. The splashing and gurgling of pipes next door had ceased, and there were no more voices. But there was music; a faint hum, waxing and waning vibrations. He tiptoed to the bedroom. Above the nightstand, next to the hook for his bathrobe, there was a blank spot of wall. He pressed his ear to it and listened. Music. The nasal intonation of a radio set. Metallic keyboard sounds and guitars. The song had a catchy, cheerless aura. A male voice, low and monotonous, was singing words he barely recognized. English; his own personal Jesus. Someone to hear your prayers. Someone, the man sang, who’s there. Zeiger detached his ear and stared at the wall. Schreibmüller had tuned in to a Western channel. At this volume, at this hour, right next to his own bed. How many times had Zeiger slept through these things? He pounded the wall, first hesitantly, then with conviction, until it rattled and the nightstand shuddered below. When he stopped, the sound had ceased. Not a whisper, not a floorboard creaking, definitely no music. He tightened his bathrobe, marched back to the kitchen. There he finished his breakfast, staring vacuously at the eggcup and its shameful childlike shape.

It was time. His closet greeted him with the smell of camphor and dust. His suits hung from their hangers like a queue of limp corpses. It was a subtle rainbow of browns and grays, with one black sports coat for functions of consequence such as banquets, funerals, the Youth Consecration ceremonies of the children of comrades he barely remembered.

Ties were an opportunity for self-expression. His collection was likewise a meticulous gradation of browns and grays. Buried underneath them was a tie with a pattern of small beer mugs, some in the process of tipping and spilling their foaming crowns. It was a vulgar tie, hedonistic, self-righteous, Bavarian, one that created in him the same level of discomfort he experienced viewing indecent films. It had been a birthday gift, an attempt at humor, by a secretary whose name he’d had trouble retaining. She had placed the tie on his desk, along with a card. In response, he filed a request to relieve her of her duties, making her the last in a long lineage of secretaries the Ministry had assigned to his one-man department.

He pulled out a dark blue tie with a subtle pattern of vertical stripes in white and wine red. A wide-collared sports coat and creased slacks in charcoal gray would take him from day to night.

There would be an interrogation at Hohenschönhausen, a quick stop at the corner café, where he still held out hope of seeing Lara, then Ketwurst day at the cafeteria. In the evening, Schabowski’s press conference, where he was to blend in with the crowd, read the room, take its temperature. International journalists would be in attendance. Broad-shouldered Russians, Americans with sleek, pointed jaws and slim-fitted coats, West Germans in their white socks. A week prior, in his first act as Party spokesman, Schabowski had anesthetized an entire room of journalists with his old Berliner lilt. The conference room at the International Press Center was a hot, teak-walled box with an uncanny lack of air, and even Zeiger himself, positioned inconspicuously in the rear of the room, had caught his head once before it tipped back against the wall. Schabowski’s monologue had rolled on at a glacial pace; many words were spoken, little was said. Hungary’s leaky borders, riots and protests in the six-digit thousands, the possibility of travel reforms. The journalists’ questions had been mild, no glances were exchanged, and Zeiger was left with little to report to the Ministry. Boredom, the great narcotic.

Zeiger had spent his early career creating a Ministry-wide reference work called the Standardization of Demoralization Procedures. SDP Manual for short. A spiffy title, with gravitas. His life’s work, a substantial volume, the closest he’d come to fathering. It was a title and responsibility no circumstance or passage of time could take from him, even though the Manual had long taken on a life of its own—often, sadly, perversely so. He pictured Management turning up the heating, closing the windows, and using subchapter 1.1 on “Demoralization through Repetitive, Tedious Speech,” instructing Schabowski to put an entire nation, a world, to sleep.


As he dressed, a crescendo of voices swelled outside. The line at the bakery was growing. The drizzle had stopped, and people were starting to converse. Next time, in the stairwell, if he found the right words, he could try to describe his episodes to Schreibmüller. As a blind man, someone more attuned to atmospheric shifts than people distracted by sight, he would understand. They would sit close, listen to each other, share awe and fear, examine answers to the most dangerous of questions, Why. He hoped he could catch Schreibmüller before he had to turn him in for that music at the Bureau for Suspicious Activity and Class Enemy Progress, on the Ministry compound. Depending on the urgency with which Zeiger furnished his report on what he’d heard through the wall, an officer could seek out Schreibmüller by the end of the day. Whom he really wanted to ask about his episodes was his old friend Held.

In the anteroom, he slipped into his leather shoes and trench coat, taking his time. A few years ago, he would have been asked to consult Management on the use of the SDP Manual for mass-demoralization purposes. It would have been he who took Schabowski into that soundproof room off the Zentralkomitee assembly hall and advised him to go slow at the press conference, strategically employ that fatherly bedtime tone. But this was not a few years ago and they had not asked him to consult. Instead, and there was no explanation as to why, they positioned him in the back of the room like a foot soldier, an infantryman, as if he were a common Unofficial Informant. The comrades in charge were, at heart, good people, the aging sons of plumbers and masons. Not dumb, just simple and easily frightened. Dangerous in that way. This interrogation at Hohenschönhausen—this was a good sign. This was hope. The Ministry had not forgotten him.

He found his reflection in the mirror and straightened his tie. His face looked back at him, flaccid and bloodless. Theory number four, he was dying. With the tip of a finger he pulled down the lower lid of one eye, revealing a sliver of tawny flesh. He felt around his jaw and the back of his neck for lymph nodes. His tongue was a mosaic of pale and gray faults. He closed his mouth and swallowed, wondering what Schreibmüller might know about death.

Zeiger unlocked the front door, peered up the stairwell. The windows in the stairwell had not been replaced since sector times. Their frames were porous and leaky and wind passed through them with bitter, grief-stricken moans. Hohenschönhausen, report Schreibmüller at the bureau, cheese toast and milk coffee at the café, see Lara—even though there was no reason to believe she would be there today, as she hadn’t been there in weeks, ever since she put a hand on his shoulder, which gave him the courage to go to her apartment, speak to her there. Then Ketwurst at the cafeteria, an airless press conference in the evening, the end of his day, another to follow, nothing had changed, alles in Ordnung.

He grabbed his briefcase and stepped outside. Fresh, wet air and a sky made of glass. As he descended the two short steps onto the sidewalk, something hit his temple. A cracking sound, hollow and profound, and a lacerating pain. He touched his fingertips to the side of his head. A biscuit, perfectly oval, lay at his feet like a hoax hand grenade.

“I’ll rip off your head and take a shit in your neck, you asshole,” someone said.

There was a man on the sidewalk to Zeiger’s right who had the build of a bullfrog. He wore a parka with a tear along one shoulder and clenched a biscuit in each fist. His face was purple with anger, hot and comical. He was looking not at Zeiger, but slightly beyond him, at the baker, who stood in mirroring warfare fashion off to Zeiger’s left. Blood from the baker’s marred lip speckled the pristine whiteness of his shirt and apron. With a detonation of deep, primal sounds, he hurled himself past Zeiger and at the man with the biscuits. Zeiger shielded his head with his briefcase as the men dropped to the ground in amateur entanglement, their faces so close they appeared to be going in for a kiss. A few paces off, a young man struggled in a choke hold, his teeth sunk deep into the bones of another man’s wrist. Biscuits were everywhere. A mother was gathering her wailing child. Another woman sat on the curb, gaping through her fingers at a group of men shoving one another like boys on a playground. Zeiger clasped his briefcase against his chest, using it like armor. He spotted his Trabant across the street, mapped his route, and wove his way through the crowd, veering to circumvent clusters of people and avoid slipping on biscuits softening in patches of rain. In a puddle, frayed and wet like roadkill, slumped the towering ushanka that Zeiger had seen from his window.

He reached his car without incident. He could not conceive of what had caused the brawl. The amount of bread scattered across the ground suggested there was no shortage. This was not desperation. This was joy in chaos. It was then that he spotted Schreibmüller. His neighbor stood on the steps of their apartment building, one hand propped leisurely against the wall, the other wound tightly around the waist of a woman in slippers and a large men’s coat. Her hand was cupped against his ear, shielding her whisper. His handsome face was tilted back and upward, away from the crowd, his blank eyes raised to the lightening sky. The king and his whore presiding.


Zeiger rolled onto Leninallee, followed it northeastward en route to Hohenschönhausen jail. Pairs of red taillights and windshields smeared with wet street dust and droplets of rain. The boulevard was flanked by rows of concrete slab buildings, symmetrically choreographed and angled as if in a giants’ ballet. Elderly Berliners walked the sidewalks pulling caddies of food; people pedaled by on bicycles, their faces protected by shawls. A row of parked police cars stretched along the side of the road, their cherry lights ablaze. Zeiger craned his neck but could not locate the source of the commotion. Maybe a car wreck, a gas leak, or punks throwing rocks at passing cars.

Through his driver’s-side window, broken and permanently cracked, wafted a smell like iron and lignite coal. Childhood memories, postwar smells. Zeiger held a tight grip on the wheel. The line at the bakery had exploded into pieces. Spontaneous, unregistered disarray. Protests in Leipzig a few weeks ago had been planned; the demonstrations last week at Alexanderplatz had been planned; Management’s response to these planned happenings had been planned. Plans were made five years ahead of time. And now the baker’s white apron was splattered with blood.

It had been a month since he’d last seen Lara. Lara, the blinding cherry lights ahead. Lara, the speckle of dried dirt on his windshield. Lara in the stratosphere, Lara in the ether. His whole life had reduced itself to her disappearance. He felt displeased with himself, positively disgusted with himself, as he tallied in his mind the usual routine of fruitless questions: Where had she gone? What had he done? If, as Held had once told him, the weight of the world remains static, and not a molecule of matter is ever lost but is merely recycled, transmuted, into water, into earth, into the energy of thought, was there such a thing as disappearance? And so on and so forth, until he wore himself out. This compulsion, this thinking, the whys and the hows, felt both rousing and banal, unhinged and pedestrian, but it had become a ritual, the twine holding together the softening box of his mind, and so he continued.

In rare pragmatic moments he considered inquiring with someone at the Ministry about Lara’s whereabouts. He could think of some reason for his sudden interest in this innocuous waitress, perhaps turn up a lead, some direction. But it seemed shameful, blasphemous even, to speak her name within something as carnivorous as the Ministry compound, so he decided against it. Meanwhile he left keys in locks, misplaced cooking utensils he had just pulled from cupboards, forgot names, forgot dates, forgot the route to the Ministry lot, found himself smiling submissively at strangers, and had developed a death wish, passive but pronounced.

He glanced at the rearview mirror and into the bloated face of the driver behind him. The driver stared back like a man playing dead in a film. From his inner coat pocket, Zeiger retrieved his cigarettes, fumbled one into his mouth, lit it. The crack in the window sucked out the smoke. The world outside was a vacuum. He turned a dial on the dashboard and the radio sprang to life. A man was speaking, flat and throaty with a Dresden twinge that smacked of stupidity. They all had on those white gloves, yes, said the voice, and those helmets and they all stood straight at attention, those soldiers. And the Comrades in the tank brigade, they had on red berets. And Honecker was there also, and Gorbi, but I couldn’t see them, just heard their voices in the microphone. And there were many pretty banners, yes, the red ones.

This was rerun coverage of the military parade along Karl-Marx-Allee one month ago, the celebration of the Republic’s fortieth birthday. An event that bore strategic rehashing. Everyone had been there. Zeiger too. He would have skipped the parade, turned up at the Ministry, had he not been ordered to observe.

He’d arrived late, when the sidewalks were already crowded, and stood next to the bleachers. He’d purchased a small black-red-gold flag from a boy in blue youth organization garb, held it like a votive candle, stiffly and piously with both of his hands. Just as the Dresdner described on the radio, banners had loomed over the streets like bloodred archangels; one hue to the right and they’d have been brown. There were lashing winds and giddy children; the familiar, celebratory smell of burnt sausage and spilt beer; a thousand smiling mouths and peaks of shrill laughter. From his position at the edge of the crowd, Zeiger wasn’t able to see Honecker or Gorbi. Just beyond the banister, the formation of soldiers stood at attention, the whites of their eyes blazing as they searched the crowd for familiar faces. They were smooth-faced, unnaturally tanned, with shoulders much too slim for the sharp angles of their uniforms. The safety and fate of nations were entrusted to children.

The brass band chugged out the national anthem and led the soldiers down the vacant boulevard. It was a newish composition, not the one he had known as a child. Germany, as it were, was no longer über alles. It had now risen from the ruins, a unified fatherland. These were aspirational lyrics; verboten, as of recently, to avoid mass embarrassment. In their most recent cross-Wall mudsling, West Germany had accused the German Democratic Republic of copying this anthem melody from Kreuder’s Water for Canitoga movie score. A commission determined that the songs did indeed share their first eight chords, and that both were in turn similar to Beethoven’s Bagatelle op. 119 No. 11, which had settled the dispute.

At the parade Zeiger did as he was told—took the temperature, read the crowd. He saw nothing but faces agape with stupid joy. This he later included in his report. What he did not report was the pall that descended over the scene during brass-band interludes. Thousands of onlookers, hundreds of soldiers, tanks, yet a silence so thick it made its own sound. Protesters had accumulated along side streets and they began pitching rocks and shoes at the crowd. Gorbi, Gorbi, Gorbi! they chanted into the aching silence, until the brass band resumed and drowned out their screams.

Do you have any congratulating words? the reporter was asking the Dresdner on the radio.

I would like to say all the best and happy birthday to everyone? the man replied, phrasing it like a question, as a Dresdner would do.

Even though it had been a bore and an embarrassment on an unimaginable scale, Zeiger didn’t remember the day of the parade for its festivities. He remembered that day for Lara, because it was the first day he hadn’t seen her at the corner café.


  • “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… It’s not easy to make such a bureaucratic monster sympathetic, but by plumbing Zeiger’s existential crisis, Hofmann manages to reach his essential humanity… A rare novel that encourages you to read as though your sanity depends on it.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
  • “A gripping debut novel… Hofmann portrays [a] pervasive sense of syncope through rhythmic prose and powerful allusions to faith in an amoral world… she also establishes an effective tension between the German penchant for order and the sudden eruptions of chaos… Hofmann heightens this sense of entropy with evocative descriptions of people and places… [a sense of capsizing] reaches a pinnacle at the novel’s clever, dramatic end.”—Dalia Sofer, New York Times Book Review
  • “Expertly crafted… I loved every… unpredictable minute of it.” —Arianna Rebolini, BuzzFeed
  • “Nothing is as it appears and nobody is to be trusted . . . A clever and constantly surprising novel.”—Kate Saunders, The Times
  • "Enrapturing... Hofmann constructs a beguiling tale of espionage... 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."—Publishers Weekly (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."—Kirkus (starred review)
  • "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."—Matthew Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
  • "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?"—David Bezmozgis, author of the National Jewish Book Award winner The Betrayers
  • "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. She recalls the prose brilliance of Jenny Erpenbeck, the philosophical curiosity of Milan Kundera, and the passion for the charming and the odd of Haruki Murakami... The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures is a hilarious, humanist, gorgeously written treatise on the currents that stir the human soul under the direst circumstances... I read this book in almost a single breath, and 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."—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
  • “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.”—Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

On Sale
Aug 11, 2020
Page Count
272 pages

Jennifer Hofmann

About the Author

Jennifer Hofmann was born in Princeton, New Jersey, to an Austrian father and a Colombian mother, and grew up in Germany. She received her MFA from NYU and currently lives in Berlin. This is her first novel.

Learn more about this author