A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is considered by critics to be one of Handke’s finest works. Like so much of his writing, it defies pigeonholing in a traditional scheme of literary classification: Is it fiction, is it biography, or is it a personal meditation? Perhaps it is most accurate to say that Handke applies the techniques of fiction—imagination, reconstruction of events, dialogue, thoughts, emotions, and descriptions of characters and scenes—to an account of actual events, much like current historical fiction and television docudramas.
Handke’s mother’s story begins in a small Austrian village, the site of her eventual death. (Interestingly, the mother is never named—probably to emphasize the conformity and anonymity imposed upon the women in her society.) For most of the villagers, life is full of poverty and desperation—especially for the women. In his mother’s day, Handke says, “a girl’s future was a joke.” This observation is borne out by the mother’s subsequent experiences: a loveless marriage, shattered dreams, and life in a society that coerces her into denying her true feelings and personality. While she courageously makes repeated attempts to break free from repression and persecution—leaving home to pursue a career at age fifteen, illegally crossing borders in postwar Europe to escape from Germany and return to Austria, reading literature and involving herself in politics—she eventually succumbs to the negative...
(The entire section is 545 words.)