A Slow, Inquiring Narration

This morning Open Letters Monthly published my REVIEW of Peter Handke’s The Moravian Night. It is one of the most difficult reviews I have ever written, difficult in part because I wanted to get at the important ideas and forms of what I think is a brilliant novel, in part because the translation blocks access to those ideas. See what you think.


About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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4 Responses to A Slow, Inquiring Narration

  1. roughghosts says:

    That is an exhaustive overview of Handke’s writings and an interesting review of this book. I am intrigued by your comments about the translation. I know from some of the Canadian (Quebec based) translators I know that reading and reviewing work that one is familiar with in the original is a challenge. And the Quebec literary community is small, it is difficult not to be exposed to a wide range of current releases at any given time.

    I was scheduled to review this book for Numero Cinq this month—not my choice, but last summer when I was booking reviews, very little was catching my attention and I was told “we were hoping you would write about the new Handke”. Coming out of writing a review of a book (Slovenian novel Panorama) that really excited me as a writer, I got about 30-40 pages into Moravian Night and decided I had neither the energy or the inclination to read it. Now I wonder how much the translation might have had to do with it.

    To be honest, I have was running into a little creative burn out at the time and ended up requesting a few months away from NC—the sort of critical reviews I write there are very draining—so at another time I might have warmed to this a little more.


    • Scott Abbott says:

      As you can tell from the review, I too was interested in how the translation might affect potential readers. It is not an easy novel to begin with, and to make it less accessible through a troubled translation is a crime.

      Liked by 1 person

      • roughghosts says:

        I felt badly about abandoning it, but at this age I feel no obligation to read a book that is not working for me. By the same token, I have just emerged from about 6 weeks of crushing dark depression, so I am not sure if that coloured my willingness to accept the premise (or to read and write to a looming deadline). It is a shame that the translation falls short though.


      • Scott Abbott says:

        I’m sorry about your dark days. Depression is a bottomless pit. Glad you have emerged. I would never review a book, like you say, that doesn’t work for me. Life is short and that simply would be a waste of time. You review so many more books than I do. And I love what you do with them.

        Liked by 1 person

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