cover image Repetition


Peter Handke. Farrar Straus Giroux, $18.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-374-24934-2

Handke's eminence, displayed in a substantial oeuvre of plays, novels and poems, is reaffirmed brilliantly by his latest work. In 1960, Filip Kobal, an alienated, 20-year-old, nascent Austrian writer of Slovenian descent, embarks on a quest to the land of his forebears. Ostensibly a retracing of his much older brother's last steps 20 years before (he was a Slovenian patriot, lover and revivifier of the language and tradition, and a doomed member of the Resistance), the journey is in fact an odyssey of self-discovery for Filip the man and the writer. Handke fashions an extraordinary retelling of the archetypal journey of initiation where the hero must travel beyond the frontiers of the known in order to transform himself into a higher state of being. Using his brother's agricultural student copybook and Slovenian-German dictionary as guides, Filip discovers language's magical ability to expand and transform reality. He attains a transcendent vision in which things and their names are all conjoined and enfolded upon themselves. And with undercurrents of memory of a bloody, oppressive past and consciousness of a sickly political present manifested in its debased, prosaic use of words, Handke reminds us, in crystalline prose, that our speech, our freedom and spiritual wholeness are one. (June)