Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Handke's Don Juan

I reviewed this book in November, but waited until it's on sale to share it with you.

Don Juan: His Own Version by Peter Handke

Austrian Handke's latest to be translated into English is narrated not by Don Juan as its title would suggest, but by a lonely French innkeeper into whose garden the protagonist tumbles one day. The innkeeper becomes Don Juan's confidant and during his stay Don Juan recounts his previous week's adventures. Over the course of that "womanweek" Don Juan travels as far as Damascus and Norway encountering a new woman each day. At first Don Juan is like a mythological character. The narrator describes him as a veritable St. Francis, nourished by sorrow (he was orphaned by the loss of his only child), with the ability to magic rare and wonderful foodstuffs. The narrator's impression of Don Juan, however, changes after the week of storytelling has concluded. Whatever was awe-inspiring seems to dissipate and Don Juan becomes just a regular man with irritating quirks.

Don't come to Don Juan expecting tales of excitement and seduction or detailed accounts of the lothario's encounters or you'll be disappointed. The novel is literary and philosophical rather than sensational.

Read the official review at Library Journal...


  1. Here are a couple of letter of mine to the NY Times Book Review about Joel Agee's review of Don Juan in its pages:
    Perhaps the NY Times Book Review could make it a practice of asking reviewers of translations if they comment on the translation, whether favorably or not or interestingly, to cite chapter and verse and make reasoned comments. [*] That way, among other matters, my better, Krishna Winston, won't have to ask me whether maybe there is is something to Agee's reservations or whether they are merely the gratuitous carpings of a fellow
    translator as one encounters them with such frequency especially among the amateurs of that caste who do not reflect on the fact that most cats can be skinned at least in two and often
    nine ways. Since the publisher, however, to whom I brought and for I whom translated three
    volumes of Handke, including a dozen plays had failed to heed my several requests
    to send me a copy of the book and if need be charge my account, I was unable to reassure Krishna
    or express agreement with Mr. Agee's assessment except to tell her that in her translation of
    the 350 K words CROSSING THE SIERRA DEL GREDOS unfortunately I encountered two words
    that struck me as wrong and one awkward passage, lucky man that Handke is to have found her
    to take up where Ralph Mannheim left off, some of whose work, especially when it came to matters of linguistic contemporaneity since he had lived abroad for so long, and the rhythms of Handke's prose, since after all Handke can be approached, ought to be as a prose poet, made me anything but happy.

  2. As I mentioned in my first communication on the Agee review, which to be found on-line at
    and at:
    Mr. Agee's was in many ways the best review that Handke has received in your pages, not that that is unfortunately saying very much, although Joel's review can let itself be seen even without making such a baleful comparison, to, say that criminal act of non-reading that your Neil Gordon perpetrated in your pages on the occasion of CROSSING THE SIERRA DEL GREDOS or the piece of idiocy done there by Lee Siegel - Agee pretty well got what Handke was up to, except for that non-pertinent last paragraph. I was not left too unhappy that he does not know nor did mention into what
    line of Handke's Don Juan assaying fits; or that he failed to appreciate the pure virtuoso nature of the danse that Handke performs, two steps forward and one back, as Handke also explores PLACE [the last dramas ] a place near his No-Man's-Bay, the foret de Chaville, as is his custom; that is, the nature of Handke's formalism, the sheer performance of that... at that point, after all, we are getting into deeper waters than one needs to as a reviewer. Or that there is a "Don Juan" who "appears with the same woman" in Handke's My Year in the No-Man's-Bay, which
    is a nice enough joke that happens to refer to the in many ways enviable genuine reincarnation
    Erich Wolfgang Skwara who has had four, several of them extraordinary, novels published in translation, especially his Don Juan novel, The Plague of Siena, of none of which the Book Review has taken any note, perhaps because they were done by that small publisher of no end of Austrian treasures, Ariadne Press,
    who also happen to be the publisher of Handke's greatest and richest work Walk About the Villages, which
    also seems to have passed you by and many another East Coast Publication and reviewer. Or...

    Sincerely yours,

    Michael Roloff [as "Der Getreue Korreptitor"]
    Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society

    This LYNX will LEAP you to my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS

    "Degustibus disputandum est" {Theodor Wiesenthal Adorno}
    "May the foggy dew bediamondize your hoosprings + the fireplug
    of filiality reinsure your bunghole! {James Joyce}
    "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde." {von Alvensleben}
    "Siena me fe, disfescimi Maremma." {Dante}
    "Ennui [Lange Weile] is the dreambird that hatches the egg of
    experience." {Walter Benjamin, the essay on Leskov.}

    *I will always recall a moment when both Helen Wolf, a most distinguished old time publisher,
    and I a comparative novice, both members of the PEN AMERICAN CENTER's Translation Committee
    cast the most baleful of looks at each other, with amazing simultaneity, as that committee proceeded
    well into a second meeting to wrangle over the placement of a single comma in its mission statement,
    as though their lives depended on it, as it does in only one instance I have encountered during my nine lives,
    in a passage in Robert Musil's great novella THE PORTUGUESE WOMAN.

  3. Very interesting. I hadn't seen the NY Times review yet. Almost all of the books I review for Library Journal are translations, most of them from languages I can't read (I do read German, but the turn-around time is so short that I wasn't able to read the original).
    The reviews are necessarily very short so I don't always have space to comment on the translation, but when I do it's usually something like this: "Translator Vincent Kling's attentiveness to Jonke's use of language—long, intentionally confused sentences, repetition, and fantastically superlative compound words like darkgreenblackcreepingplantalgaemurky (a descriptor for canal water)—helps retain the book's balance as well as its complexity" (from this review) or "Stamm's narrative is both insightful and dreamy, his fluid prose rendered adeptly by award-winning translator Michael Hofmann" (from this review).

  4. That's fine how you do that! Jonke! Died early, much influenced by the early Handke's novels. e.g. GEOMIETRISCHER HEIMATS ROMA.
    I don't think library journal ever reviewed Handke's WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES [Ariadne Press], who do all those wonderful Austrian stuff - cause those dear scholars are saving money by not sending out galleys or finished book, at least they weren't when I did some work for them. VILLAGES happens to be my best translation, and Handke who himself translates from five languages including the ancient Greek thought it was the best translation he had ever seen. Josef Winkler they have done two books of, who has meanwhile won the Buechner ;re, deservedly. where are you physically located?

    xx michael r.

  5. "shuffle off to buffalo" as the song has it "and shovel snow" ... a long way for my Seattle crows... the first Robins showed back up this week, it's been a fairly mild but wet winter here, after a very cold first month,
    and today i saw a very green nearly iridescent humming bird hunting for nectar!xx michael r.