Long-time Sunset resident and retired SFSU professor Manfred Wolf has published a new book. Almost a Foreign Country: A Personal Geography in Columns and Aphorisms is based on a selection of columns Wolf has written over the past 10 years for a neighborhood newspaper. The book presents a quirky San Francisco, West-of-Twin-Peaks view of 50 years of American life and culture, from the trivial to the profound — not to mention the absurd. Some of the book was written at the Green Earth Café on Taraval Street.
Wolf has appeared on Michael Krasny’s KQED program “Forum,” as well as on John Rothmann’s late-night slot on KGO.
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Manfred Wolf, the author of hundreds of academic and literary articles on literature and culture, has also been writing for a popular audience. A number of his reviews and articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, and in 2001 he published Amsterdam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion as part of a popular series of books on literature for tourists.
His new book gives readers a chance to experience the wit and whimsy that has charmed fans of his columns over the years.
Wolf was reared in the Netherlands. His happy childhood was torn apart by the Nazi invasion of Europe. After several years of terror and hand wringing, Wolf and his parents made a daring escape from occupied Netherlands via Spain and Portugal in 1942. Almost none of his father’s relatives survived the war.
Over the next 10 years, Wolf experienced a bewildering series of dislocations from the tropical lushness of Surinam and Curacao in the West Indies to the paradise of an idyllic college education at Brandeis University, and finally, to San Francisco State College, where he began teaching in the English Department in the ‘50s at the ripe age of 21.
Despite tragedy and cultural isolation (perhaps because of it), Wolf never lost the sense of wonder manifest in his new book.
His subsequent life story and career represent a kind of pirouette between his European roots and his new home in America. While becoming thoroughly Americanized, Wolf continued to study his native Dutch language and literature and became an authority on cultural issues in the Netherlands.
Wolf’s columns are written in the tradition of the Feuilleton, a form of personal literary essay popular with European journalists but never really adopted by English language writers. Digressing from seemingly random observations made on Taraval Street or in Helsinki, Wolf meditates on everything from San Francisco teenage semiotics to the dating game for AARP members.
He also admits to being a specialist in the “sad, ludicrous story,” in which there is a search for some message in the humiliations of characters whose best laid plans go awry. Often the subjects of these tales seem to be drawn from Wolf’s own peripatetic associations and wanderings.
If you want to find the moral in the story of how a misunderstanding about a slide projector compromised the liaison dangeureuse of a Scottish professor traveling “Down Under,” Almost a Foreign Country is available by calling 1-800-Authors, as well as on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. It is available at the West Portal Bookstore, and can be ‘special-ordered’ from any bookstore. Or email Manfred Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org