cover image The Second Sword and My Day in the Other Land

The Second Sword and My Day in the Other Land

Peter Handke, trans. from the German by Krishna Winston. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-60146-1

These two well-crafted if surly novellas from Nobel winner Handke (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick) deal with isolation and the outsider’s attempts to reconcile himself with society. The Second Sword follows an unnamed narrator as he wanders the Île-de-France outside present-day Paris on a loosely articulated revenge mission. With a tortuous and winding narration, Handke eschews traditional storytelling in favor of psychological study. The facts are elusive; the narrator seeks to avenge an “insult” to his mother, a German of aristocratic birth, who was exposed by the media as a Nazi supporter. His wanderings interpose violent and misanthropic fantasies with moments of profound if inarticulate connection with other outcasts orbiting Paris. In My Day in the Other Land, a man suffers a bout of insanity. After returning from agricultural school to his family’s orchard, he becomes possessed by a host of spirits that leave him raving in a graveyard, but also give him supernatural insight into the true nature of others. With his sister and her lover’s blessing, he sets out across the lake to the “other land,” a parallel, dreamlike world where his psychosis fades away. Handke’s ill-tempered visions are feverishly thrilling. (Feb.)