My apppreciation 40 k words long of Crossing the Sierra del Gredos can be found at:

 with notes also appearing at: 




'Crossing the Sierra de Gredos'

Published: August 19, 2007
She wished this were her last journey. The place where she had lived and worked for a long time now always offered more than enough new experiences and adventures. The country and the region were not the ones in which she had been born, and starting in childhood she had lived in several altogether different lands and landscapes.

Peter Handke

'Crossing the Sierra de Gredos,' by Peter Handke: Over the Hills and Far Away (August 19, 2007) Raised by grandparents who were avid travelers, or vagabonds, to be more precise, who seemed to change their nationality with every border they crossed, she had pined for a while in her youth for the long-lost land of her birth in eastern Germany, familiar to her not from her own memories but rather from stories, and later from dreams as well.

After several visits to that country, she then spent some years there as a student, in Dresden or Leipzig, let us say, a good hour by bicycle from the village of her birth, and eventually, several countries or two or three continents later, she even settled there, two hours by car from her alleged birth house, by now torn down and replaced by a new building. She lived there and worked, though not yet in banking.

Later still, again after several countries and continents, after alternating between work and the vagabond life, though not the same kind as her grandparents'-almost always alone-she gradually, imperceptibly, lost track of her birthplace, and one day the image of an expansionist, overweening Germany was gone from her consciousness, whereas for a while at least some traces of her own, small-caliber Germany lingered, a stream with the shadows of water-skaters on its pebbly bed, a harvested cornfield from whose furrows bits of chaff swirled into the air, a mulberry sapling that had wandered by mistake into that steppe-cold region.

And then these traces, too, faded away. The images no longer came of their own accord. She had to make an effort to summon them. And as a result they remained devoid of meaning. At most they turned up in an occasional dream. And eventually they, too, vanished from her dreams. That country no longer pursued her. She did not have a country of her own, or another country either, including this one here. And that was fine with her. Perfectly fine! The eternities spent in foreign parts seemed to have shaped her, enhancing her beauty, and not only the beauty of her face!

A clear, frost-cold night in early January on the outskirts of a northwestern riverport city. What was the name of the city? of the country? The author she had hired to write a book about her undertakings and her adventures had been forbidden from the very beginning to use names. In a pinch he could use place names, but it had to be made clear at once that they were usually false-altered or invented. Here and there the author, with whom she had negotiated a standard delivery contract, would also be free to toss in a real name; in any case, future readers were to confine themselves to following the larger story, and the story and the manner of its telling were calculated to make them free to forget, from the moment they turned the first page, any thoughts they might have had of hunting for clues or sniffing around. If possible, the first sentence of her book would banish any such overt or ulterior motives in favor of reading, pure and simple.

According to the contract, the same prohibition applied to names of persons and indications of time. Persons' names were admissible only when they were clearly products of the imagination. "What imagination?" (the author). - "The imagination appropriate to the specific adventure, and to love" (she). - "Whose love?" - "Mine. And indications of time only of this sort: One winter morning. On a summer night. The following fall. At Eastertime, in the middle of the war."

For a long while now she had had hardly any relatives left. And those who were still alive were out of sight and out of mind. Somewhere

-"Where?" - "How should I know?"-she allegedly still had a half brother, who allegedly rented out recreational vehicles, or was a microchip technician? or both

 Yet for many years she had made her ancestors, starting with her parents, of whom she had no conscious memories, the objects of a quiet, private, and all the more fervent cult. These ancestors, with the possible exception of her grandparents, who for a long time were entirely too present, constituted-thanks to stories, no matter how fragmentary, indeed, precisely because they were fragmentary, and then also dreams-the love for which she wept anew, often daily, during a good "two dozen summers, and even more winters."

 Did she long for her ancestors? Yes, yet not to be with them, but merely to be able to look in on them for a moment, to comfort them, to thank them, and to bow down before them, after taking the appropriate step backward.

And then these shadowy ancestors had lost all their hold over her. And that, too, had happened ever so gradually. Some summer or winter morning she had realized that her venerated dead belonged to the gazillions of those who were no longer present, having seeped into the ground since the dawn of time, crumbled, or blown away to the four corners of the earth, never to be recalled, never to be brought to life by any love whatsoever, irrecoverable for all eternity. They still turned up now and then in dreams, but only as part of a crowd, under the heading of "also present": this "now and then" no longer had the meaning it had once possessed of "at all sacred times."

And this second death of her ancestors was also fine with her, like the small and large birth country that had earlier slipped away from inside her. In the meantime she had come to see as delusory the type of strength she had long derived less from the entire country than from little pockets in that country, less from the wholly successful life of an ancestor (to be sure, there was not even one life that fit that description) than from misfortune and a lonely death (which was the lot of all her forebears). Such strength, she wondered: Did it not make one tyrannical and ruthless? Did it not add to the burdens of those with whom one now passed time, lived, worked, had dealings, in the present? Such strength was accompanied by a kind of arrogance, was it not, which could thwart, even harm, even destroy the days as well as the nights of one's contemporaries, those who somehow or other got close to one? Once free of her ancestor worship, did she become receptive to other kinds of strength? impulses? No, in spite of everything, it was not perfectly fine with her when the ancestors grew meaningless and dim. It was more a question of her letting it happen, with a bitter aftertaste, and not only on her tongue.

Week after week it had been bone-chillingly cold in this region where she had made her home for a long time now. At first she wanted to talk the author out of any reference to this detail, which hardly seemed to fit the "northwestern port city" they had settled on as her place of residence, a place where the Gulf Stream moderated the climate. But then she allowed herself to be persuaded that a "port" could also be a riverport, inland, far from the warming coast, on what was already a cold portion of the continent. Basel. Cologne. Rouen. Newcastle upon Tyne. Passau. What mattered: that her bank's headquarters were located in such a city. But the name of the bank was not to be mentioned in her story either.

On the morning of her departure she rose even earlier than usual. As before every journey, it had been a light, floating night, perhaps, too, because she had again slept in the bed belonging to her child, who had gone away. Her things were already packed-or rather, stashed in a bag purchased at the end of her girlhood and by now half as old as she was. It seemed immeasurably older, however: worn, torn, scuffed; like a relic from the Middle Ages, when travel had been very different from today; an ermine satchel? Time and again, before each of her solitary journeys, and not only into the Sierra, she had wanted to throw it away, or at least stow it in a corner. And every time it had been the one she decided to take with her-"just once more." As a child, her daughter, long since over the hills and far away, had begged her mother, whenever one of their games came to an end, for this kind of "just one more game," and after that "just one more": "Please, just one more, one more!" This was no longer asking; it was pleading. The author: Could he include that in her book? She: If not that, then what? All through the trip her bag remained half open. But nothing ever fell out. And her shoes? They were old and scuffed-good for rock climbing.

It was still completely dark, and outside the frost crackled on the windowpanes. She did not turn on the light; the moon, almost full, though waning, shone through the entire house with its many uncurtained windows. Here on its periphery, the riverport city extended to the foot of a ridge, partly wooded, partly bare cliffs. The hill, black with the moon behind it and very close by, appeared to form part of the spacious house, which at the moment looked empty. In each room-and there were quite a few rooms-the near emptiness projected a different image: here the resident had long since moved out for good; here the room had been cleared out except for two or three objects and pieces of equipment, ready for work to begin; now the deserted vestibule showed signs of a hasty departure; now the table in the parlor gleamed for a meeting about to take place; there, in the kitchen's one pot, the size of a cauldron, food had been prepared for a large gathering, or for a whole week.

  A sort of fullness or, rather, stuffed quality, similar to that of her bag, manifested itself only in the first of the suite of rooms intended for a toddler, a schoolchild, and a student: even the corners were filled with games, action figures, toys, standing and lying next to and on top of each other. Except that in her bag each of the items had its place, its purpose, its plan; they all complemented and implied one another. But here in the playroom, the hundreds of toys were scattered every which way and did not reveal any recognizable game. Not even the rudiments of any familiar or reproducible game could be discerned, and not merely because of the moonlight. Yet games had been played in this room, with all the things lying about on the floor, and with all of them together, at the same time, and how! Full of enthusiasm, in the sweat of armpits and the brow, amid shouts of encouragement and the raucous singing of made-up songs, play, play, nothing but play. And the play seemed to have ended not all that long ago. Any minute now it would resume.

Before setting out, a cup of coffee (or tea) at one of the windows on the south side. That was the direction in which she was supposed to go. Yet it was a long time since a southern destination had meant anything to her, as was also true of the ocean and all the other points of the compass-and that was fine-including the Himalayas and a journey to the moon. The latter was suddenly reflected in her cup and promptly disappeared again. She tried to catch it. But it slipped away each time. She sat down on a folding chair, a so-called camp chair, and wished she could sit there forever.

Now a shock: someone was eyeing her, or her silhouette, from outside, from the dark: the author, the deliveryman. A first solitary peal of the bell in the church tower on the outskirts, and almost at the same moment the voice of the muezzin from the nearby minaret, answered by the repeated hooting of an owl in the wooded hills. The first early plane leaving a flashing trail among the sparkling fixed winter stars, and now, as a third element, a match struck across the entire sky and already extinguished: a January falling star.

No, no author. And yet he existed. He was even a reason for, and one of the destinations of, the trip she was about to undertake. And it was only tangentially or incidentally for the purpose of telling him her life story or whatever. The main purpose was money. He and she had first agreed on a contract for the delivery of her book, and now they were to sign a contract in which she and her bank-the bank and she, or at least her name, had long since become synonymous-were to have a free hand in managing and growing the author's fee.

Nowadays she did not normally concern herself with such matters. The bank had its own department for them, and by now she worked outside of and above the departments. But in this case she had to make an exception. She had got herself into this situation when she decided that she wanted a real book written about herself, instead of the endless newspaper articles and magazine features, a book about her bank, too, and its history. Of course the amount of money the author wanted to invest (or could invest) was a drop in the bucket, and not only compared to the sums her bank usually handled. And the author's personality, too, judging by the one meeting the two of them had had thus far, seemed like that of someone who would normally give her a wide berth.

 How had she settled on him? Why had she not signed a contract with a journalist, or a historian, or, the most obvious choice, a journalist specializing in history? From the beginning she had insisted on a more or less serious writer, a teller of tales, or for that matter an inventor of tales, which did not have to imply that he bent or falsified the facts-just that he slipped in additional facts here and there, different, unsuspected facts, and, once in the swing of things, suppressed or, why not? simply forgot some that were obvious, not necessary to mention? "The Facts, Not the Myth"-that was what one of the historically oriented journalists had suggested as a subtitle when he offered his services for the book project. And among other mottoes, this one, this very one, had sent her off on the opposite track, or rather sidetrack, that of the author, although there came moments when she felt she had fallen into his trap.

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'Crossing the Sierra de Gredos,' by
Peter Handke: Over the Hills and Far Away (August 19, 2007) Be that as it might, she was confident that he would smuggle all kinds of other things into the series of facts; and those things would be decisive for the story. Story? This was closer to the true state of affairs: as others might aspire to earn a place in history, she wanted to earn a place in the "story." And it should be a story that could not be filmed, or could be captured only in a film such as no one had ever made before.

At one time she had been a reader. (She still read now, but for her it was not real reading anymore. She did not read properly. Yet she felt orphaned without reading.) And in those days the author, that accursed author-and not only because of this trip he was forcing her to take-had served her less as a hero than as a pilot? No, she did not need a pilot; served? Yes, served. And although his last few books had appeared quite a while ago, and she had not even got around to reading them, the idea had suddenly occurred to her of having him write her book. Him or no one. And he would get down to work for her right away. No one, not even he, could refuse her offer. Even that he might ask for time to think it over would be inconceivable to her. Once, when she had been in another part of the world, as the guest of a president, a man who placed great importance on his own dignity and whose cooperation was almost a matter of life and death to her bank-"let us say, the president of Singapore"-in the middle of the negotiations she had demanded that a certain document she had left in her hotel room be fetched, not by just anyone, but by the president himself. "And he promptly went to get it!"

The author, without a new book now in a decade, was, at the same time, almost to his own regret-"almost"-by no means forgotten. Without being anywhere near wealthy, he did not suffer from a lack of money. He knew nothing at all about her and her worldwide legendary reputation as a banker and financial expert until her proposal reached him, sped to his garden gate by an authorized courier, and his ignorance was not the result of his isolated life in a village in La Mancha (where did such a thing still exist, a voluntarily isolated life?).

Excerpted from Crossing the Sierra de Gredos by Peter Handke Copyright © 2002 by Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 



Over the Hills and Far Away

It is time readers of the New York Times Book Review were made aware
of Handke, the prose writer, having gone through something like half a
dozen changes. Starting of as a supremely playful demonstrator of the
quelling of anxiety in his first three novels, only the third, GOALIE
[1969], exists in English [in my translation], his nausea, once
including words [he now fondles them] is not like Sartre's idea-driven
kind, but has psychosomatic origins; is the nausea produced by what
for him is "the ugly;" no matter that it hits the same nerve. And that
his hyper-sensitivities are uniquely his.

If Mr. Gordon were as exacting as he says Handke is, he might have
noticed that Handke already shifted to a more open hearted
mytho-poeic, but equally if not more exacting, position in the 1975
LEFT HANDED WOMAN, [whose personae resembles that of the woman subject
of the current DEL GREDOS] the book just preceding A SLOW HOMECOMING,
whose Alaska section must be one of the most articulated responses to
nature in world literature for its selectivity in naming.

  What entered Handke's writing shortly after HOMECOMING, in THE
LESSON OF ST. Victoire, was the pictorial Cezanne re-arrangement of
reality {"Close your eyes and see the world arise anew", the opening
sentence of his 1984 Salzburg novel ACROSS, provides a hint.}

  With THE REPETITION  [1987, "retrieval"] a book fabulously praised
in The Guardian, the promised re-write of both his first novel, DIE
HORNISSEN [1966], and of SORROW BEYOND DREAMS [1972 – Gordon even
manages to find a negative take on Handke's emotionally most
immediately accessible highly praised book], Handke's search ["I want
to be someone like somebody else was once" KASPAR, 1968; OBIE 1972]
rearranged his roots in his Slovenian grandfather and uncles' region;
which  provides a hint to the unnecessarily baffled Professor Gordon
why Handke might prefer a continuous existence of the Yugoslav
Federation over its decimation into small consumer entities; his
defense of the Serbs and Milosevic against the more customary "one
devil" theory of history and journalism.

  With the three narratives in THREE ESSAYS [especially ON THE
JUKE-BOX, 1989], culminating in the six-sided weaving self-portrait of
himself - as the once nauseated ex-cultural attaché Keuschnig [of 1974
A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING], as writer, painter-filmmaker, priest, stone
mason, super-finicky misanthropic restaurateur, and reader, in the
1994 magnum opus ONE YEAR IN THE NO-MAN'S BAY, Handke demonstrated for
stretches – he is the greatest of exhibitionists – the capabilities of
narrative as pure writing music image, as he did already in the 1986
ABSENCE, a narrative that a reader experiences like film.
        Subsequent to NO-MAN'S-BAY he then demonstrated that you could zoom like a camera, in the 1996 ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE, into the mind of an apothecary, in the improbably named, Salzburg suburb
Taxham, and make that fellow's dream syntax absorb the readers'
projections, a feat worthy of the Joyce of FINNEGAN FUNAGAIN; and in
his 2005 DON JUAN, the fugueing novella that followed the 2003 GREDOS
he showed that you could write both forward and backward in time while
standing in one place. - I know it is all a little much, the fellow
just turned 65 and has published 60 books, and sometimes I wish I'd
never set eyes on him, but he can't help it, he must write to stay
healthy; his symptom is his salvation. And it is that of real readers whose minds his self-state inducing work opens up.

  It matters little that the so other-opinion-oriented Mr. Brown's
search for "opinions" yields so little of note; or that Handke is the
whipping boy of miserable reviewers chosen by overly busy editors.
Gordon has searched poorly. REPETITION and NO-MAN'S BAY are regarded,
rightly I think, as two of the great novels of the past hundred years,
e.g. William Gass's estimate of them. Since Gordon cites the Book
Forum review 

http://bookforum. com/inprint/issue=200703&id=264
I would like to point out that as a professor of literature he might be
aware of the classical tradition of Goethe, Stifter, Flaubert, Hermann
Lenz and Bove in whose steps Handke, the last great walker on the
earth, exerts himself as someone who is so infinitely of his medium's
contemporaneous possibilities; and to sensitive responses in the

1] LA TIMES/ Thomas McGonigle

2] Washington Post/ Guy Vanderhaegen

3] San Franciso Chronicle
Crossing the Sierra de Gredos
San Francisco Chronicle - CA, USA

as well as to sites and blogs I and others run on Handke, accessible


These not only contain a wealth of material, but there Handke, his
own severest critic, also is critiqued on his own terms; and flinches
at every lash of the whip!

  Gordon's reading of DEL GREDOS shows me that he is the wrong
reader, that is a non-reader, responder for this book, written in large part to memorialize, salvage a landscape. He bristles at being shook up.

Hyper Lander 2 Classic

 US REVIEWS LINKS,0,2189379.story?coll=la-books-headlines


Over the Hills and Far Away

 Washington Post/ Guy Vanderhaegen


San Franciso Chronicle
Crossing the Sierra de Gredos
San Francisco Chronicle - CA, USA