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Slow Homecoming (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 31, 2009
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“Moving and powerful...with the freshness that only an extraordinary writer can impart.” –Los Angeles Times
PRAISE FOR HANDKE
“One of the most original and provocative of contemporary writers.” –Lawrence Graver, The New York Times
“Peter Handke…perhaps the most interesting young writer in German today.” –Frank Kermode
"There is no denying Handke's willful intensity and knife-like clarity of emotion. He writes from an area beyond psychology, where feelings acquire the adamancy of randomly encountered, geologically analyzed pebblesÉThe best writer, altogether, in his language." –John Updike, The New Yorker
"His experimental poetry and anarchic, anti-authoritarian work win him a following among Germany's left-wing `1968ers'. Handke aims to strip away unnecessary words and challenge linguistic conventions, developing a spare, robust prose style." –The Guardian
"IMAGINE a cross between Holden Caulfield and Bertolt Brecht, and you'll have a sense of the Austrian novelist, playwright and screenwriter Peter Handke, whose alienation from the phony and harmful adult world is as pure as his esthetic purity is purposefully alienating...As it happened, Handke ended up writing social criticism with a vengeance...though to some degree time-bound tales of angst, have a pained, mysterious beauty. Their alluring tension lies in the little war they prosecute between eloquence of expression and rage at the loss of meaning." –The New York Times
"Peter Handke made his reputation as an important writer with a fierce, icy set of plays and novels: Offending the Audience, Kaspar, The Ride Across Lake Constance, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and Short Letter, Long Farewell. Oblique yet startlingly immediate, these works embodied in fresh fictional and dramatic forms concerns that seemed particularly postmodern, notably an obsession (indeed, a disgust) with the way language itself defines and constricts human possibilities." –The New York Times
“The David Byrne of fiction: a writer with a resonant, powerfully direct voice who could invoke the particular Sartrean nausea of postmodern existence in the simplest events.” –The New York Times
“Handke is a securely established star of the German-speaking literary world, ‘the darling of the West German critics,’ and a ‘key figure of his generation.’” –The New York Times
“One of the most original and provocative of contemporary writers.” –The New York Times
“Handke was and is, one of the most eminent narrative and dramatic writers of postwar Europe.” –The Boston Globe
“Peter Handke must be acknowledged as one of the major voices in contemporary fiction.” –Partisan Review
“One awaits with pleasure whatever Peter Handke turns to next…Since the 1960s, he has been a popularly acclaimed novelist, playwright and poet and a long-standing critical success. He now creates a more rarefied, demanding art coupled with a lucid yet mythic affirmation of life.” –The Boston Herald
“In power and vision and range, Peter Handke is the most important new writer on the international scene since Beckett.” –Stanley Kaufmann, Saturday Review
“His prose is reminiscent of the writings of Henry James…a passion for understanding, for grasping the tortured complexities of contemporary life.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Peter Handke achieved the kind of succes de scandale every ambitious young writer dreams of... and Mr. Handke became the enfant terrible of the European avant-garde...But Mr. Handke has aged well, and now, as the prolific author of plays, novels, essays, stories and poems, he is regarded as one of the most important writers in German.” —The New York Times
About the Author
Peter Handke was born in Griffen, Austria, in 1942. He came to early prominence in the 1960s for such experimental plays as Kaspar and rapidly established himself asone of the most respected German-language writers of his generation, producing fiction, translations, memoirs, screenplays, and essays. Among his best-known novels are The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Repetition, and My Year in the No-Man’s Bay. He has directed adaptions of his novels The Left-Handed Woman and Absence and collaborated with filmmaker Wim Wenders on four films, including Wings of Desire. In addition to Slow Homecoming, NYRB Classics has also published Handke’s novel Short Letter, Long Farewell and his memoir A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.
Benjamin Kunkel is the author of the novel Indecision and a founding editor of n+1 magazine.
Ralph Manheim (1907–1992) translated Günter Grass, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Hermann Hesse, and Martin Heidegger, along with many other German and French authors.
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The translation is certainly awkward in many places, using words that are far from contemporary colloquial English (even for 1985). Yet the author's style also keeps his readers at a distance--emotionally, dramatically--which results in an unpleasant, boredom-inducing muffling effect. This is especially a problem in the final section of the `novel,' which concerns the author's relationship to his young daughter.
While I find admirable the author's goal of evading the use of specific place names and personal names, in an attempt to look at the world with a fresh perspective--a strategy that every lover of modern poetry associates with Stevens and his Blue Guitar--the author has his narrator consistently fall into generalizations and clichés, whether he is in Alaska, California, New York, Germany, Austria or France. There are simply no dramatically defined individuals, fleshed out in all their idiosyncrasies and pathos. The author's concerns seem to be too self-centered despite the protagonist's supposed valuing of his daughter above all else.
However, Slow Homecoming is consistently an honest `portrait of the artist as a young man.' There are some interesting insights into the inspiration he received from Cézanne, explored in the second part of the book. Thirdly, the American reader will be exposed to the torment of a conscientious Austrian coming of age in a world where one's parents and parent-culture are completely unreliable, guilty of the worst of atrocities. Handke really seems like someone trying to figure out how to make life meaningful and worthwhile again. Finally, although dramatically null, the section of the book about the father-daughter relationship does offer some unique, personal insights into one of the most important bonds two people can have. It is honest, as harsh as it is affectionate. But again, I feel like I was kept at more than arm's length through a too-impersonal narration, an almost complete remove from dramatic action and dialogue--and of course awkward translation.
Overall, the book's insights are relatively fleeting or perhaps merely too overshadowed by the its greater faults. The naturalistic descriptions of central Alaska are actually very pretty--but again the book, perhaps purposefully, is too (deliberately?) fractured to make these positive aspects outweigh the frustrations of this reading experience.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the narrator is the self-aggrandizing and mystical obfuscation he seems inclined too. He speaks of feelings of transcendent unity or the onrush of cosmic visions without giving his readers the feel of what these (entirely mental) experiences are like. Late in the book, he writes, "Only in sorrow, over an omission or a commission (and then my eyes become magnetic and all-encompassing), does my life expand to epic proportions." This is almost laughably embarrassing. And nothing's "all-encompassing" simply because they say so. There are poets and novelists who I could believe that of--but they would never say, `Hey, look! I am actually omniscient!'
All that said, eventually, I might want to pick up a later Handke volume, to see if his early left-field experimentation matured into a less deliberate, less self-conscious achievement.