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Description - A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke

"My mother has been dead for almost seven weeks: I had better go to work before the need to write about her, which I felt so strongly at her funeral, dies away and I fall back into the dull speechlessness with which I reacted to the nerves of her suicide." So begins Peter Handke's extraordinary confrontation with his mother's death. In a painful and courageous attempt to deal with the almost intolerable horror of her suicide, he sets out to piece together the facts of her life, as he perceives them. What emerges is a loving portrait of inconsolable grief, a woman whose lively spirit has been crushed not once but over and over again by the miseries of her place and time. Yet well into middle age, living in the Austrian village of her birth, she still remains haunted by her dreams.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781901285178
ISBN-10: 1901285170
Format: Paperback
(165mm x 120mm x 10mm)
Pages: 80
Imprint: Pushkin Press
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Publish Date: 27-Jan-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke

UK Kirkus Review » This short autobiographical work is the story of a woman's life of misery and despair, cut short by suicide. Standing at her graveside, consumed by 'impotent rage', her son, Handke, feels a sudden need to write about her and what follows is a heartrending account of the events which shaped her life and made an early death her only choice. Born in the 1920s in a village in rural Austria, the woman (she is never referred to as anything other than 'my mother') realizes at an early age that a traditional life of childbearing and housekeeping is not for her and runs away. A combination of city life and the general euphoria following capitulation to Nazi Germany gives her the excitement and independence for which she has yearned, and she soon falls in love with a German army paymaster and has his child. It is here that the tragic irony of her unfulfilled life begins to unfold; this bald, married bank clerk, several years older and considerably shorter than her, turns out to be the love of her life. A downward spiral begins as she marries a German soldier and returns to Austria, by now with several children, to begin a struggle through years of post-war impoverishment. As her violent husband is diagnosed with tuberculosis, she begins to experience the agonising physical symptoms of a nervous breakdown which will dog her life. Although marred at times by a slightly stilted translation, Handke's skill as a writer is to combine in 77 short pages a sense of the overwhelming disappointment of his mother's life with the horror of his powerlessness to do anything about it, either at the time or afterwards. He ends the book, first published in 1972, by telling us, 'Someday I shall write about all this in greater detail', but how, or indeed why, it is difficult to imagine; he has said it all. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » A whole new bag for the extravagantly talented Austrian playwright of chutzpah, novelist of sensibility, poet of linguistic games - a wrenching precis of the suicide, in 1972, of Handke's mother. Out of that funk of horror-boredom-unreality that one has come to associate with Handke, emerges the mirror-image trauma of a Slovenic peasant girl who used to play a game based on the stations of a woman's life: Tired/Exhausted/Sick/Dying/Dead; who early in life dismissed all thought of a future; whose budgeted life of hygienic poverty was swallowed up in the anesthesia of Catholic and peasant rites and the bourgeois conviction that she was at least a little "better off than the rest of them." Handke takes her measure in loveless pregnancies and knitting-needle abortions, the (in)frequency of her laughter, the "luxuries" - like a cup of coffee at a tavern or a movie - which she denied herself. Before the onset of an excruciating nervous breakdown, her university-educated son "kept forgetting her, at the most feeling an occasional pang when I thought about the idiocy of her life." And now that "she took her secret with her to the grave" (he says with irony) the constitutional "speechlessness" of the writer that he is leads him directly from the cemetery to his typewriter, to a whole new formulation of those "moments when the mind boggles with horror. . .dream happenings so gruesome that the mind perceives them physically as worms" - a state that to the son is as natural and ordinary as the death wish that sweetened Frau Handke's day to day afflictions. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Peter Handke

Peter Handke, dramatist, novelist, poet, essayist and writer of screenplays, was born in Griffen, Austria in 1942. Handke has been awarded many literary prizes, including the Schiller Prize in 1972 and the Kafka Prize in 1979, which he turned down. He now lives and works in Paris.

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