A sad story—perhaps, but one in which fantasy and history dance nimbly. Stellar.


The renowned Austrian novelist looks back on a body of work and a terrible century in this elegiac tale, first published in German in 2008.

“Every country has its Samarkand and its Numancia.” So opens Handke’s (Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, 2007, etc.) novel, evoking the Thousand and One Nights, Cervantes, Machado, Borges. These fabled places of refuge on the far ends of the world are joined by a houseboat on the Morava River, a tributary of the Danube where the Slavic and German worlds meet and armies have long clashed. There, a storyteller gathers a group of “friends, associates, distant neighbors, collaborators of the former writer,” for whom, in the face of deep danger, he offers a multitiered, time-shifting tale that crosses borders and decades, one in which figures from other Handke novels make appearances, to say nothing of angels and demons. Some of Handke’s text is a kind of meditation on history; having come under much criticism a quarter-century ago for his defense of Serbia during the most recent round of Balkans wars, he places that region on the edges of Numantia and Samarkand, joining it to the fabulous: “Where had they begun, his and our Balkans? Long before the geographic and morphological border.” Some of it is a subtly defiant self-defense, begging the question of who turned out to be right: “A sad story?” the tale closes. “That remained to be seen.” And some is simply lovely, as when, in one of his guises, the narrator, passing across La Mancha—shades of Cervantes again—suddenly confronts his literary and actual past: “One after the other, his forebears came toward him in the early light, reached him, went by him.” All play a role in his life and story, he adds, one whose threads are still playing out even as Handke’s modern epic ends.

A sad story—perhaps, but one in which fantasy and history dance nimbly. Stellar.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-21255-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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