Novelist and essayist Handke's latest work attempts to apply his aesthetic philosophy to the real world and fails miserably....


A JOURNEY TO THE RIVERS: Justice for Serbia

Novelist and essayist Handke's latest work attempts to apply his aesthetic philosophy to the real world and fails miserably. It is certain to cause controversy here, as it already has in Europe. Austrian-born Handke (The Jukebox and Other Writings, 1994, etc.) is one of the most familiar German-language writers. Throughout his career he has concerned himself with language as a mediator of experience. Central to his writing is the ongoing search for truth and true experience, which he claims lies in subjectivity. A Journey to the Rivers is his highly subjective and none-too-informed account of the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, and of what he views as the Western media's biased presentation of the conflicts. Handke argues that the Serbs are neither as cruel nor as violent as we think, and he blames the Western media for celebrating the Bosnians and Croats while demonizing the Serbs. To remedy the lack of appropriate ""eyewitness accounts"" and to ""go behind the mirroring of the usual coordinated perspectives,"" Handke traveled to Serbia for a few weeks in the company of two ‚migr‚ Serbs (his translators) to observe for himself the people and their mood. Those who question the validity of such limited, amateur observations (Handke calls his method ""participation,"" despite the mediation of guides and translators) will not be reassured by the results. Handke's observations on Serbia (""an orphaned, abandoned child"") are often silly or uninformed (foreign powers, he insists, started the war), and sometimes irresponsible, as when he compares a horde of Serbian soldiers drunk on Slivovica to supposedly similar hordes of foreign journalists drinking grappa at hotel bars. The journalists, after all, aren't shooting anyone. The real shame about Handke's book is that his reflection on the need ""to liberate the peoples from their mutual inflexible images"" is right on target. Only we need to begin with expert examinations of the Yugoslav media that brewed hatred and disinformation long before the West became involved.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997


Page Count: 96

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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