Sunday, October 23, 2016



RE: J. Cohen’s review of  Peter Handke’s Moravian Night.

 How is it possible for  J. Cohen to write - is he a clairvoyant into the past? - about Handke‘s relation to his mother Maria Sivic and Yugoslava “After her suicide in 1971, Yugoslavia — historic homeland of the South Slavs — became a maternal surrogate. But despite Handke’s peripatetic visits, he never seemed to know it, or never seemed to know it as anything other than a figment or delusion, “ when it is quite clear, both from Sorrow Beyond Dreams & The  Repetition ,that young Handke’s interest in Slovenia was elicited by the journal of his dead uncle, his  mother’s brother [who was the one who died uring WW II,  both  Hankdke’s father and stepfather survived as is also quite clear from Sorrow Beyond Dreams] and Handke went on a graduation wandering trip to seek out the uncle’s origins as a horticulturalist in Llublianka. The apparent Yugoslav expert reviewer might of course learn to read which might have spared him his prolix stuff about the Balkans and allowed more focus on the book where, toward its end, Handke has a writer much like himself and Ramsey Clark [!],  whom Handke met while covering the Milosevic trial in Scheveniningen, and a Japanese girl, sit in a doline in the Carso in Slovenia as the last three holdouts for justice for Serbia! If Mr. Cohen had  antenae for Handke’s sense of humor about himself he might also get off his high horse & perhaps criticise some of the aesthetics . If your readers are interested, this Handke translator & fellow Handke translator Scott Abbott are conducting an even-handed discussion on Moravian Night

Sincerely, Michael Roloff





The Moravian Night is the name of a boat moored on the Morava River, where a gathering takes place in which a writer tells friends the story of a journey he once took through Europe. The book’s journey appears to begin in Kosovo. The somewhat unreliable narrator tells his friends of “following the example of the rivers,” meandering through Spain, Portugal, and Handke’s native Austria, before circling back to the Balkans, which no longer exist the way the storyteller once knew them. He encounters a varied cast of characters. Few places are named, nor does the reader ever know precisely where the narrator is, on land or in the mind, recollecting, philosophizing, dreaming. Further muddling the narrative are the friends the narrator has gathered, who sometimes take up or interrupt the story with their own version of things during the long dark night. At the center is a woman, on the boat and in the story, a mysterious figure lurking, serving, talking, perhaps even orchestrating. In this story where memory and reality battle, Handke (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick) once again showcases his valuable insight and imagination. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/10/2016
Release date: 12/06/2016
Ebook - 978-0-374-71561-8


Then and Now
The Other Mariners
MAY 22 2009

German Fiction


Peter Handke


At the height of the Bosnian war in 1996, the Austrian writer Peter
Handke caused a huge controversy when he published a polemical
travelogue based on a trip around four rivers in south-eastern Europe
(the Danube, the Sava, the Velika Morava and the Drina), in which he
identified with Serb nationalism, glossed over Serb atrocities such as
the Srebrenica massacre and criticized the Western media for
distorting the conflict in the Balkans. Handke continued to defend the
Serbs throughout the Kosovo war in 1999, and even spoke at the funeral
of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade in 2006.

Handke’s 560-page “story”, Die morawische Nacht, returns to the same
topos and in particular the Velika Morava, the tributary of the Danube
that runs through Serbia. In it, an unnamed “former author” summons
seven friends to the eponymous “Morawische Nacht”, a floating hotel
moored on the banks of the river in what appears to be a Serbian
enclave but is also apparently a refuge from noise, modernity,
globalization and the European Union – present-day Europe’s equivalent
of Numancia, the ultimately doomed last redoubt of Spanish Celts
against the Roman Empire. This romantic critique of modernity is
familiar from Handke’s earlier work and centres on the idea that in an
increasingly mediated world we have lost the ability to see truly what
is around us.

In one single, long night on the boat, the “ex-author”, who the
outside world thinks has gone mad, tells his guests the story of the
dreamlike odyssey through Europe he has just completed. Beginning with
a bus ride through a hostile neighbouring area (Kosovo, perhaps), he
retraces the steps of his (and Handke’s) life, visiting the Adriatic
island where he (and Handke) wrote his first book, and Carinthia,
where he (and Handke) grew up, encountering characters from Handke’s
previous novels along the way. It is a fairy tale, told in long,
drawn-out sentences that meander like the Velika Morava itself. But as
the ex-author’s voice merges with that of the narrator, it also
becomes a story about storytelling – which, Handke seems ultimately to
suggest, is the only real refuge from the disenchanted modern world.

Hans Kundnani



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.
Review by Booklist Review

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. This gem from Marcel Proust could not be more relevant to acclaimed Austrian writer Handke's meandering, semiautobiographical, fictional travelogue, which is more an account of self-discovery and a continent's gradual evolution than a strict accounting of sights seen. Sure, the writer-narrator describes tables groaning with food and plenty of quaint villages studding the landscape, but the shell of the story consists of recounting his travels across Europe, noticing the tiniest of fissures in the notion of a united Europe. As his protagonist travels from the gloomy Balkans to Spain and beyond, Handke (Don Juan: His Own Version, 2010) describes not just a continent in flux, where once rancid-tasting Montenegrin olive oil is now good enough to compete with the best that Tuscany pours, but also crafts a journey of growth, in which the narrator must make peace with the ghosts of his own past. A searching exploration of how travel and storytelling can help us find our truest selves.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2016 Booklist

Peter Handke: Die morawische Nacht (The Moravian Night)

Note that the title refers to the river Morava and not to Moravia in the Czech Republic. Handke uses a Germanised form of the Czech word, rather than the usual German word, March. The Moravan Night is a houseboat. It used to be a floating hotel but has been converted for use as a personal houseboat of the author or, rather, as the narrator quickly points out, the ex-author (he has not written for ten years) who is the focus of this novel and who may or may not be, at least in part, based on Handke himself. At the beginning of the book, a group of people – friends, associates, like much in this book it is not entirely clear – come to the boat, which is moored on the Morava river (though we do not know exactly where or, indeed, in what country). They are sat at individual tables. As well as the ex-author, there is a woman there. Who is she? We do not know. We learn from him some of his life, in particular how he had to flee from a woman who was out to kill him (we will learn about her later) But we also learn of strange journeys he made.
The first journey is a strange one through an enclave (he uses the term in German) which may or may not be Kosovo. All we know is that they goes through Porodin. They are a group of a people on a bus (an old bus, with Cyrillic writing on the side). The ex-author (we never learn his name, he is known only as the ex-author) generally keeps himself to himself and so do the others but there are occasional interactions, such as we when they all start asking him awkward questions or when the driver criticises the people of small ethnic groups struggling for their independence, and not just the ones in former Yugoslavia. The road takes them through ruined towns though some are still inhabited and occasionally they are greeted by the inhabitants or followed by the police. They even see tanks. But they also see buildings destroyed, waste all over the place and dead animals. Some villages are completely uninhabited. Both the descriptions of the landscape and the reactions and thoughts of the ex-author and some of the passengers are haunting and masterly told, as only Handke can.
But we also follow his other, earlier travels. He spends time on an island in the Adriatic, which he calls Cordura (named after the film They Came to Cordura), though that is not its real name. Here he lives a life of isolation, mixing only with the fishermen. He goes to Spain, starting with Numancia, where he attends a conference on noise and meets the poet Juan Lagunas, who tells him that we no longer have an association with a place any more and that this is something irretrievably lost. He travels around, particularly in Galicia, seeing places, meeting people and going to football matches. It could be boring with a lesser writer but Handke keeps our interest going at all times. He then goes to Germany, specifically to a small town in the Harz mountains where his father had lived. He had barely known his father and wanted to discover his roots but his visit did not help. The (naturally unnamed) town did not seem German to him but could have been any where. This may partially have been because it was near the East German border but also because he felt more Balkan than German. He looks for his father’s grave in the cemetery but it is not there. When he inquires at a nearby flower shop he learns that graves for which the upkeep had not been paid were dug up, to allow space for the recently died. He remembers only his father’s death, suddenly keeling over and telling his wife, Lina, that he was dying. The narrator points out that this is the only German name he mentions during his story.
This points to one of the key themes of this work. Later in the novel, the ex-author narrator will comment on this issue of belonging, of place as well as talking about the land and languages and cultures. This is now all confused, citing the example of an Asian and Turkish immigrant talking to one another in a strong Austrian dialect. We are part of this whole – our language, our land, our culture – but we are individuals as well and this has also taken a terrible blow in the post-Yugoslavia conflict. There is a telling image of the narrator ex-author going to a conference and visiting a cemetery called the Cemetery of the Nameless, a cemetery where unknown corpses and the corpses of suicides were buried. There is even a gravestone which reads simply Nameless. Never to be Forgotten. (It reminds us, of course, of the father’s grave which has now gone.) It is ironic, of course, but also, for Handke, deeply sad that these people have been forgotten. But, in the end the Porodin Enclave is no longer an enclave and Porodin is now Porodin and no longer Породин.
This book, unfortunately, is not available in English (nor, as far as I can see, in any other language). Handke is one of the most important authors writing tody, even if you find his views on Serbia somewhat disturbing. Yet, of the eighteen books published by him since 2000, only two are available in English. Yes, some of his works are long (this one is 560 pages but still much shorter than Der Bildverlust (Crossing the Sierra de Gredos) and yes, he is very prolific but more, much more of his work should be available in English, including this one.

Publishing history

First published in German 2008 by Suhrkamp
First English translation by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2016

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