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A Sorrow Beyond Dreams

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  869 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Peter Handke's mother was an invisible woman. Throughout her life, which spanned the Nazi era, the war, and the postwar consumer economy, she struggled to maintain appearances, only to arrive at a terrible recognition: "I'm not human any more." Not long after, she killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.

In A Sorrow Beyond Dreams her son sits down to record what h
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Paperback, 96 pages
Published November 30th 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1972)
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Stoner by John WilliamsChess Story by Stefan ZweigA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard HughesThe Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy CasaresThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson
New York Review Books - Classics
98th out of 414 books — 422 voters
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Best German/Austrian Literature
316th out of 567 books — 599 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,331)
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Mike Puma

Briefly: In Jeffrey Eugenides introduction, readers are told, “In fact, German has two words for self-slaughter: Selbstmord, which is roughly equivalent to the English “suicide” and Freitod, which means literally “free death,” and possesses a certain brave, even heroic, connotation.” This puts me in mind of the character of Jessie in Marsha Norman’s unforgettable play, 'night, Mother, a play everyone should see, or read, or watch the Cissy Spacek/Anne Bancroft film. Both the play and Handke’s b

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PGR Nair
A HYMN TO TRAGEDY

It is a difficult proposition to write a memoir about the death of one’s mother, and that too when she commits suicide at the age of 51 ( I have a somber association with that number as my mother too passed away at that age) . A Sorrow beyond dreams is Handke's poignant account of his mother's life and death. Prosaic, poetic, elliptical and self-conscious, it is an exacting picture of the shock and grief that await those who have inherited the ruins of a suicide. Rarely in rece
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Jonathan
What does it mean to write about Death, not abstract death, or death of some invented Other, but Death in its most personal, intimate, self-shattering form? How, when the act of writing, of composition, is inherently distancing, can one write about that which is closest to us?

The relationship of Life to Death is that of Music to Silence; how can we write about the difference between the silence before a note, and the silence that follows?

The Death of the Mother. This is a hackneyed literary tro
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Lee
Barely remembered reading this in 1996, back when I read everything Handke had published. Read a yellowed mass market paperback with a cartoon image of the author on the cover (Three by Peter Handke). Reread the novella in this snazzy < 75 pg. standalone edition -- for what felt like the first time really -- because Knausgaard recently mentioned it as a major influence. This straightforward yet essentially scene-less "life story" about Handke's mother's suicide gave Knausgaard a blueprint for ...more
Sue
Mar 11, 2015 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sue by: PGR Nair
Peter Handke has written an elegy for his mother, a suicide, unlike anything I've read before. It is also the story of many women born in Austria between the World Wars, when life was not only difficult, it was hard, even more so for women than men. Opportunities were few, happinesses meager. Escape taken if possible but then came the Nazi era, the post-War years, varying levels of hardship, marriage, family, no aspirations.

He talks of the family and community into which she was born.

For a woman
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Elizabeth
I don't believe that all books can be rated on a "star" system, nor do I believe that all should...I still believe what I've written above, but a book that is haunting me and continues to daunt me deserves 5 stars.
I don't believe that all books can be reviewed in words, nor do I believe that all should...
When you read a book and the words simultaneously seep into your "everything" inside and it confronts and confounds you on every page, that is all I believe needs to be said.
I think we could cho
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Josh
The half-lit room. The cream-colored paint on the walls reflecting barely enough light to see. The tiled floor, absent of dirt or dust. The cot which lies empty, barren and untouched. All of these circumstances, all of these facts can be taken as a symbol for the hurt, pain and utter emptiness Handke's mother felt as she grew to become, in her own words, nothing.

"And so she was nothing and never would be anything, it was so obvious that there was no need of a forecast. She already said, "in my
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Peter Handke's mother, aged 51, committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Here he looks back at her hardscrabble life and its few moments of happiness and tries to justify his writing about it and the manner he accomplishes the task.

Despite the potential of the plot and its minefield of emotions I found it difficult to connect with this piece, not looking forward to Handke's promise to write about this again "in greater detail,' because for reasons I could not fathom (or could it be th
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S.
NYRB not only has an amazing selection of books, but their cover design is invariably gorgeous, and in a few cases even seems reason enough to buy some of their titles. I loved the cover of Stoner and The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story and Novels in Three Lines, but the stark beauty of "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams" so far tops them all.

The book is a memoir of another sad little round of life, and the cover, a photograph by James Casebere called "A Barrel Vaulted Room," is a good match for it. I’m afraid
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Ipsith
Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, which I read in a single sitting, is a searing example of prose literature doing what no other art form can do – engaging the conflict between thought and emotion, building a narrative out of the intersection between ideas and lived experience – that I’ve come across in years. It’s a hybrid form – not quite memoir, but not exactly fiction either – about the life and suicide of his mother, written in the months immediately following her death. Handke struggl ...more
John
In this nearly unbearably moving memoir of his mother, a suicide, PH remarks: "...I was beside myself with pride that she had committed suicide." (p.68) This statement, among others of equal power, produced in me an "Entfremdung" that PH may have wished to produce in a reader of this brief narrative, but perhaps not.

There is in this book, of course, the outlines of his mother's story, which he narrates in a form that to my mind suggests a writer's journal. And he says as much: "Someday I shall
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Jimmy
This book really didn't work beyond the beginning pages. And yet it wasn't bad. The writing was not engaging enough, the biographical style he chose ("after that, she did this..." etc.) is hard to stomach for too long. You can tell that Handke was conscious of this too, putting in things that broke from the pattern, even a whole page meta-talking about why he decided to write it in this boring style! The book fails in some interesting ways. I feel like Handke never had a good sense of what he wa ...more
Michele
When did I trade light, joyful summer reading for the uber-depressing? Not quite sure but after this one, I'm switching gears. Don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic book but it's fantastic in that gut-wrenching, can't-believe-people-lived-their-lives-with-this-much-pain-and-sorrow way.
Peter Handke tells the life story of his mother who grew up in Austria, came of age in Germany between the Great War and World War II, and committed suicide in her early fifties.
In the beginning he uses a child's
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Christian Engler
A contemporary masterpiece in the genre of the literary memoir, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is actually an unceasing nightmare where closure is not a possibility, primarily because it recounts the suicide of the author's mother, a woman whose desire for her own forged intellectual and independent identity is never completely made manifest. Peter Handke, one of Austria's preeminent authors and playwrites, looks painfully backward and assesses his mother's life, times and environment and tries to under ...more
Jennifer
This slim volume (76 pages) is an author's attempt to process his mother's suicide. It ends up being both the story of his mother's life, and more generally, about what it was like to be a poor woman in Germany, living through World War II and its aftermath. About a woman's sense of identity or lack thereof in a pre-feminist society.

But mostly it is a book about grief. The reader is constantly reminded that this is not so much a biography of his mother as it is a way to deal with his loss, to t
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Erica
I wasn't sure about this at first. A lot of the set up involved little philosophical squiggles that I didn't much care about. But then it slid out of that and into a beautiful elegy, memoir, portrait.

Here are lines I liked:
"What she said about books could not have been put into print; she merely told me what had particularly caught her attention. 'I'm not like that,' she sometimes said, as though the author had written about HER. To her, every book was an account of her own life, and in reading
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Peri Kitapları
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Abeer
Incredibly unique, attempts to be as objective as possible, thereby only being all the more cruel and crushing.
Handke's 'A Sorrow Beyond Dreams' is an almost biography of his mother's life and all the factors that eventually lead to her suicide at middle age.
from childhood to girlhood to motherhood and womanhood and wifehood and loneliness and rigorous attempts at survival, oblivion, overwhelm. In 70 pages Handke attempts to approach social systems and what it's like for the individual within
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Sigrun Hodne
SHORT VERSION:

Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams (Wunschloses Unglück) is a stroke of genius!

LONGER:

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is a short story about the suicide of a poor, sad and disillusioned Austrian woman who happened also to be Peter Handke’s mother. The book was written in 1972, shortly after the woman’s death.

This is how the story begins:

The Sunday edition of the Kärnter Volkszeitung carried the following item under ‘Local News’: ‘In the village of A. (G. township), a housewife, aged 51,
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Darryl
In 1972, the author's mother took her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills, after an unremarkable life of 51 years that was marred by poverty, depression, neurogenic pain, and especially the limited opportunities available to her. After the initial "dull speechlessness" he experienced after receiving the news of her death, Handke was proud that his mother had taken the affirmative step to end her suffering. Soon afterward, he decided to write about her life, before the need to do so faded aw ...more
Sasluu
Handke spent two winter months in 1972 writing the story of his mother's life and death, only seven weeks after her suicide. These circumstances force you to view the features of the book in a special way. The emotional detachment; the impersonal tone; the rejection of narrative, all of these are directly tied up with the immediacy and intensity of the situation, which Handke is deliberately subduing. In doing this, he manages on the one hand to provide and "objective-sounding" account of his mo ...more
Ian
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is a memoir that Peter Handke wrote following his mother's suicide in 1971. It is a brief gut-wrenching examination of a life that spanned the rise of Nazi Germany, the 2nd World War, and the years of national impoverishment, confusion and shame that followed. Handke's mother was an invisible woman. Her sporadic flirtations with self-assertion ended when necessity or illness dragged her back down to earth. She married a man she grew to loathe and worked her fingers to the ...more
Argonauta
As hard as life may be is the dead of a person. Peter mother's life wasn't an easy one. Her suicide appears to be the act of someone searching for freedom from a life which was more a punishment than a path of joy and happiness.

I like very much the way this story is written. A thin biography of someone who came to this world with a stigma and left it through the back door. This story tells more than most of those thick biography books about stupid celebrities. And it's a hard one. Not for everyo
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Rob
A short, heartfelt little literary memoir, in which Handke's intellect strives to come to terms to what seems to have been the "suicide foretold" of his own mother. Like Camus' The Outsider, we begin with the bald statement of the terrible fact, but what follows, rather than alienation, is Handke's resolute dance around the salient facts of his mother's existence. It is not planned and executed, but rather allowed to emerge and critiqued by the writer himself as it does. Some of his responses ar ...more
Mcgum
Ich habe das Buch zum ersten mal im College gelesen und habe damals nicht alles verstanden. Damit meine ich nicht was passiert oder was Handke schreibt von wegen der sozialen Schicht von der die Mutter nicht entkommen kann, sondern ich konnte mich einfach nicht richtig darin einfühlen. Es war mir fremd und wie von einer anderen Zeit.

Als ich es jetzt aber zum zweiten mal las, fand ich alles viel persöhnlicher. Ich kenne ich nun Leute, die es einfach nur wegen ihren Umstände nicht gut haben und d
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Stephan
Absolutely one of Handke's best. He writes so sparingly - like he doesn't care. The writer in the introduction describes Handke's attempt as the opposite of the American Modernists: trying to get as real as possible. But Handke DOES care. It's just haunting. Short and sweet. Read it all at once.
Fateme
کاش ترجمهش انقدر بد نبود. ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
To be truthful, the last ten pages deserve five stars.

The reason:

It is a small book of just 70 pages and this claims to be the life story of a person (a woman) of the tumultuous times of Austria. The author narrates his own mother's life story as an Exemplary life of a person (female) of her times. And in doing so, the author wants to create not a personal account and an objective account. So what does he do? He collects the details about his mother and then makes formulations of concepts in whi
...more
Sooj
A brief impressionistic novel about the suicide of the author's mother, a vivacious woman whose life becomes increasingly circumscribed by convention and the dreariness of post-WWII Austria. What is constantly interesting are the twists and turns of emotions of the narrator confronting and distancing himself from his mother, at moments clinical, ironic, or so intimate that it is as though the narrator has taken on the mother's innermost memories (the little pieces and bits of our own lives that ...more
David
One of the most eminent authors writing in German today, Peter Handke is known here – if at all – more for co-writing the screenplay to “Wings of Desire” with Wim Wenders than for any of his novels or plays. Of any of his books, “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams” (“Wunschloses Unglück”) is his most widely read. “Dreams” tells the life story of Handke’s mother, who, after decades of poverty, loneliness, physical abuse, unfulfilled desire, and mental illness, committed suicide in 1971. Handke’s unflinching ...more
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