A SORROW BEYOND DREAMS: A Life Story by Peter Handke


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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.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1975
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux