The series in English translation consists of three works of prose that can be considered novels, with the first most closely fitting into that category. The Slow Homecoming series, however, is a tetralogy rather than a trilogy. The author, Peter Handke, has designated a play—or dramatic poem as he calls it—to be the fourth and final work in the series. The play, Über die Dörfer (beyond the villages), was not translated into English for the 1985 edition. The series was named for the first book’s title, which in German means “slow homecoming.”
Handke garnered international attention when he challenged a famous group of postwar German-language writers. According to Handke, the Group 47, named for the first year that they met, 1947, had become too much of an institution. Between 1969 and 1972, his daughter was born, he separated from his wife, and his mother committed suicide. From this point on, his writing slowly took on a different character: It became less openly rebellious and showed more self-reflection. It represents Handke’s turn to a more subjective, introspective writing, which has been labeled, in reference to Handke and other writers, the New Sensibility.
The Slow Homecoming series chronicles Handke’s gradual reconciliation with Austria, his home, and its history. In the series, Handke nevertheless maintains a critical attitude toward Austria. The slow trip “home” represents not only a trip back to Austria but also represents a trip back to Handke’s poetics, or aesthetic of writing.
The main character in each work of the series may be read as a mask for Handke himself. In the first novel, The Long Way Around, the Handke mask is a geologist who decides to return to his home in Europe. Significantly, home is usually expressed as Europe. It is not until the final play, Beyond the Villages, that the main character is back in Austria.
The chronology of Child Story corresponds to the time in which Handke lived in West Germany (1965-1969 and 1971-1973) and in Paris (1969-1971). Handke then traveled in the United States, as does Sorger in The Long Way Around. The following year Handke traveled around Europe; some of this trip surfaces in The Lesson of Mont-Sainte-Victoire. Handke finally returned to Austria and settled in Salzburg, and Beyond the Villages takes place entirely in Austria. The homecoming, however, is fraught with family tension. Handke brings back to Austria a concept of home that explodes nationalism. Home is no longer a village; rather, the village (or city, or country) is part of the world. This is the message of Über die Dörfer, or “beyond the villages.”
The tetralogy does more, however, than investigate the relationship of the personal to the historical. Description of landscape, objects,...
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