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A Sorrow Beyond Dreams

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,899 ratings  ·  221 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
Paperback, 76 pages
Published November 30th 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1972)
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Adam Dalva
I came to this slim novella through Maggie Nelson, who recommends it in RED PARTS. It is the story of Handke's mother's suicide, and his rapid attempts to capture it and her life through writing. Handke is a strange, wonderful writer and I raced through the early part of this with pleasure, as he constructed a profile of his mother's life in Germany before her stagnancy set in. (I was particularly interested in how backgrounded WW2 was - Hitler, just a voice on the radio.)

The writing
PGR Nair
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites

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 recent y
Mike Puma
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: austrian-author, 2015

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 brief account of his mother

Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, nyrb
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 day," though sh
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
“My sense of horror makes me feel better: at last my boredom is gone; an unresisting body, no more exhausting distances, a painless passage of time,” Peter Handke writes in this distilling memoir about his mother. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is his attempt at reconciling with his mother’s suicide, his piecing together of the life she lived.

I didn’t intend on reading this book now, especially since I just finished Handke's Short Letter, Long Farewell. However, as I arranged my books and thumbed through the first few page
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
David M
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
She was; she became; she became nothing.

A teenage boy gives his mother the books he's been reading - novels by Hamsun, Dostoevsky, Faulkner - and she absorbs them with enthusiasm. For the first time in her life she learns to express herself in words. However,

Literature didn't teach her to start thinking of herself but showed her it was too late for that.

A gain in freedom, or even happiness, may ultimately leave you standing face to face with that thing you were successfully able to avoid fo/>Literature
Lee Klein
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 influenc ...more
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Are you ready to face the facts?
Shelves: read-in-2016, dost
“This story, however, is really about the nameless, about speechless moments of terror. It is about moments when the mind boggles with horror…”

How to explain the agonizing disintegration of a life?
The gradual decay of whatever we humans possess that gives us a conscience? The notion of being?

Handke’s memoir on the suicide of his mother is not what you expect.
Dismiss all idea of long-winded paragraphs recreating the suffocation of being a faceless, nameless woman drowned in sq
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, favorites
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
Jim Elkins
Dec 07, 2018 added it
Shelves: german
Writing, Barely Under Control

This is an astonishing book. I recommend getting an early-edition hardcover, because the dust flap has an affecting picture of Handke. He would have been thirty. He looks up with a helpless expression, his mouth slightly open. Bright lights reflect off his thick glasses. He has a sparse moustache and a Beatles haircut. He looks completely lost.

I don't think that photo is on the internet, but it's been painted (badly) for the cover of "Three By Peter Hand
Billy O'Callaghan
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: around-the-world
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 you can’t apprec
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
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An important story about a woman who went through so much in life that she saw her escape only in suicide. However, the writing style was so chaotic that I was questioning whether I'm even reading in my native tongue (which I was).
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
Christian Engler
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 us
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 r
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though recounting his mother's life and her suicide, Handke does not write to express what could be said about her life, but instead to express the ``extreme speechlessness'' aroused by the horror of a gradual depersonalization. ``I'm not human any more.'', not a realization, but a gradual acceptance of an existence without life; without vitality. An existence so incoherent that it arouses an incomprehensible horror so deadening that leaves the afflicted too numb for terror or dread. The paradox ...more
Farhan Khalid
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
My mother has been dead for almost seven weeks

I had better get to work before the need to write about her

I fall back into the dull speechlessness with which I reacted to the news of her suicide

The worst thing right now would be sympathy, expressed in a word or even a glance

What I am going through is incomprehensible and incommunicable

In my mother’s purse I found a copy of her will

My mother being born more than fifty years ago in the same village whe
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
These memoirs are blanketed with sorrow and bleakness. To the author, his mother led a bitter life that led to profound regret and ultimately suicide. Handke considers this woman's life idiotic (he muses about "the idiocy of her life"). Much as I like the format that Handke came up to write this elegy, I think he was so consumed with sorrow that he never considered his mother may have enjoyed raising her many kids and being a mother. Maybe that's too hard for a certain kind of man to consider. A ...more
"Dusk was falling quickly. It was just after 7 p.m., and the month was October."

Patricia Highsmith, A Dog's Ransom

(Citazione-avvertimento a pagina cinque)
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Kobe Bryant
Oct 22, 2015 rated it liked it
What was he thinking spoiling the suicide at the very beginning
One of Peter Handke's best works is the small and anguished elegy he wrote soon after his mother’s suicide in the 1970s, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. The writing itself—constricted in its focus, matter-of-fact in its depiction of the author’s emotional uncertainty and his inability to elevate the unfulfilling facts of his mother’s existence—seems grief stricken, as if the words must be pulled by force of will and duty through the wearying weight of sorrow. Handke’s dolefulness and restraint result in ...more
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Peter Handke is an Avant-garde Austrian novelist and playwright. His body of work has been awarded numerous literary prizes, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2019. He has also collaborated with director Wim Wenders, writing the script for The Wrong Move and co-writing the screenplay for Wings of Desire.
“حاجة ماسة للبوح تصادفها أقصى درجات الصمت” 22 likes
“لا أقوى على البقاء في البيت، لذلك أتسكع في الجوار على غير هدى أو قصد. ففي هذه الآونة بتُّ أستيقظ في ساعة مُبكرة قليلا، و ساعة نهوضي من الفراش هي أصعب ما أعانيه، إذ أجدني مرغمة على الإتيان بأي شيء لكي لا أعود إلى الفراش مجددا، أصبحت لا أعرف كيف أُشغِل نفسي ولا كيف أستغل الوقت. ثمة عزلة هائلة في داخلي، ولا رغبة لي أن أخاطب أحدا من الناس. و في معظم الأحيان أشعر برغبة في تناول كأس عند المساء و لكن يتوجب عليّ أن لا أفعل لأن الشراب يبطل مفعول الدواء” 6 likes
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