cover image The Fruit Thief: Or, One-Way Journey into the Interior

The Fruit Thief: Or, One-Way Journey into the Interior

Peter Handke, trans. from the German by Krishna Winston. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-90650-4

Nobel laureate Handke (The Moravian Night) delivers a glacially slow but erudite journey through the northern French countryside. It begins on an August day when the narrator, an unnamed older gentleman, sets out from Paris to follow a young woman he calls the “fruit thief” on her trip to Picardy. The fruit thief, whose name is Alexia (a reference to the patron saint of travelers) meanders, spirals, and walks backward through the outer suburbs of Paris on her way toward the Vectin plateau, at times in the company of a delivery boy, a dog, a raven, and a dying cat. But who she is, why she steals fruit, and the purpose of her pilgrimage remains unclear. The author is a savvy explorer of the minutiae of human experience, and makes every hour of his wanderer’s sojourn “dramatic, even if nothing happened,” as the narrator notes. Handke’s descriptions of the landscape’s sights and sounds, such as how the peal of church bells bends into the roar of a confluence of rivers, offer much to savor. It adds up to a powerful anthem for “the eternally daunted undaunted,” as the narrator calls those “detour-takers” who might relate to the fruit thief, the “bitterness-lovers,” and “lost cause defenders.” Admirers of the stylistically cavalier Handke will be rewarded for taking in the scenery of this story. (Mar.)