First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Provocative, romantic, and restlessly exploratory, Peter Handke is one of the great writers of our time. Slow Homecoming, originally published in the late 1970s, is central to his achievement and to the powerful influence he has exercised on other writers, chief among them W.G. Sebald. A novel of self-questioning and self-discovery, Slow Homecoming is a singular odyssey, an escape from the distractions of the modern world and the unhappy consciousness, a voyage that is fraught and fearful but ultimately restorative, ending on an unexpected note of joy.
The book begins in America. Writing with the jarring intensity of his early work, Handke introduces Valentin Sorger, a troubled geologist who has gone to Alaska to lose himself in his work, but now feels drawn back home: on his way to Europe he moves in ominous disorientation through the great cities of America. The second part of the book, “The Lesson of Mont Sainte-Victoire,” identifies Sorger as a projection of the author who now writes directly about his own struggle to reconstitute himself and his art by undertaking a pilgrimage to the great mountain that Cezanne painted again and again. Finally, “Child Story” is a beautifully observed, deeply moving account of a new father – not so much Sorger or the author as a kind of Everyman – and his love for his growing daughter.
In 2019, Austrian Peter Handke was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” However, it wasn’t a decision that was warmly welcomed by literary pundits because of his political views. He even once called for the abolition of the Nobel Prize in Literature, calling it as “circus”.
One of his most prolific critic is Salman Rushdie, one of my current favorite authors. Nonetheless, I am setting aside these prejudices as my curiosity is getting the best of me. As soon as I came across one of his works in a local bookstore, I didn’t hesitate buying a copy of his work, Slow Homecoming. And since I am having a European literature month, I decided to immerse in his work. He is also the third Nobel Laureate in Literature I am reading this month after the 1907 and 2018 winners, Rudyard Kipling and Olga Tokarczuk, respectively.
Slow Homecoming is the story of a man named Valentin Sorger. From what I can discern from the opening chapter, he is a geologist who is on the midst of a quandary. I am getting a sense that there will be a lot of pondering and contemplation in the story because that is how it started. Interestingly, he finds company in one cat, the same way that Ove did in Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove, my prior read before Slow Homecoming.
There is a lot of description in the first chapter. I have to hand it to Handke as I can easily visualize the contours of the Alaskan landscape. And yes, it seems that chapters are quite lengthy as the first chapter alone is about fifty-pages. I can sense that the story is mostly a solo act, with Sorger as its centrifugal point.
Contrary to expectation, however, the story is not related on a first person-of-view which keeps the reader at bay. So far, no intimate connections was made between me as a reader and Sorger as a character. I guess it’s the stoicism that is quite common in European writers. It did remind me of Magda Szabo’s The Door. As such, I am expecting that as the story develops, I am going to form some semblance of connection with Sorger. At least I hope so.
With this, I expect to encounter many moments of contemplation as the story moves along. This will, I hope, aid me in my understanding and appreciation of Sorger as a character. It feels like Slow Homecoming is going to be a meditative experience. Oh well, let’s see. I hope I finish it this weekend,
I hope everyone had a great week! I am looking forward to another weekend locked down in the comforts of my bed! Haha. Stay safe everyone!