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A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
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A Sorrow Beyond Dreams

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3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  708 ratings  ·  63 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 he...more
Paperback, 76 pages
Published November 30th 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1972)
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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
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
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,...more
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
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...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...more
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.
Fatemeh
کاش ترجمه‌ش انقدر بد نبود.‏
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...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
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
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
Christiane Alsop
It was worth reading this book because it sheds some light on the life of women during the Nazi time and in post-war Germany. I recognized similarities between my mother's and the author's mother's life (although my mother was younger). However, in almost every other respect, I did not find pleasure in reading this book.

The author writes from such a far removed place, distancing himself from his characters by referring to them as "the mother", "the husband", "the older son" etc and taking off i...more
Andrew
This is my first encounter with Handke, someone I've been meaning to read for the last couple years. It's a very short book, written in a two-month burst, recounting his mother's life after she's committed suicide. Despite these factors of its composition--the close, urgent I-have-to-write-this-now-ness--it's told with complete dispassion, except for an unspeakable despair and horror that he acknowledges, and he absents himself from the narrative nearly in total, sticking mostly to what he calls...more
Stephen
This small book is a powerful account of the life and suicide of Austrian writer Peter Handke's mother. It is written without the slightest sentimentality--indeed, many readers might regard his account as cold-hearted. Handke writes of the "idiocy" of his mother's life. She was a woman like so many other women of her era, whose life went through what he describes as fives stages: tired/fatigued/sick/dying/dead. But she also took a stop at "madness" along the way. This is a painful account of a s...more
Saskia
Komischerweise hat man den Eindruck, der Peter hat seine Mutter nie besucht.
Auch, wenn es objektiv gehalten sein sollte (von vornherein unmöglich), hätte ich mir doch gern mehr persönliche Bezüge gewünscht. Nicht nur die Mutter betreffend, auch die Geschwister und Stiefvater.
Cynthia
...disorder, cold, and silence drive me to distraction;...

And so seven weeks after his mother's suicide at the age of 51, Handke makes himself sit down to write an account of her life, trying to avoid what he terms the "transformations" that would turn his story into art or allow him to distance himself as writers usually do.

In telling the tale of his mother's ordinary, conscribed and hopeless little life, he breaks your heart for this woman, and for many women of similar times and places and t...more
Ahmed Al Hokail

If there's someone who can write about loss, pain, monotonic anger filled with poetic surrender, without being hackneyed or banal; it must be Handke
Mikael Kuoppala
Here’s a novel that’s very difficult to review. It’s in many ways difficult to read as well because it is so very personal. “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams” is a eulogy Handke has written for his mother very soon after her suicide. The text is basically a duology with a segment where Handke tries to capture her mother through an account of her life and a closing statement where he tries to capture his own state of disbelief that precedes grieving.

It feels as if Handke has used the writing process to rea...more
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Avant-garde Austrian novelist and playwright.
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