Crossing the Sierra de Gredos A Novel

Peter Handke; Translated from the German by Krishna Winston

Farrar, Straus and Giroux




480 Pages



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A San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of the Year

On the outskirts of a northwestern European riverport city lives a powerful woman banker, a public figure admired and hated in equal measure, who has decided to turn from the worlds of high finance and modern life to embark on a quest. Having commissioned a famous writer to undertake her "authentic" biography, she journeys through the Spanish Sierra de Gredos and the region of La Mancha to meet him. As she travels by all-terrain vehicle, bus, and finally on foot, the nameless protagonist encounters five way stations that become the stuff of her biography and the biography of the modern world, a world in which genuine images and unmediated experiences have been exploited and falsified by commercialization and by the voracious mass media.

In this visionary novel, Peter Handke offers descriptions of objects, relationships, and events that teach readers a renewed way of seeing; he creates a wealth of images to replace those lost to convention and conformity. Crossing the Sierra de Gredos is also a very human book of yearning and the ancient quest for love, peopled with memorable characters (from multiple historical periods) and imbued with Handke's inimitable ability to portray universal, inner-worldly adventures that blend past, future, present, and dreamtime.


Praise for Crossing the Sierra de Gredos

"It would be folly to suppose that Crossing the Sierra De Gredos is anything less than a work of art . . . A stupendously capable writer . . . Handke is a writer who cannot be brusquely dismissed."—Christopher Byrd, San Francisco Chronicle

"One of the most emotionally rewarding and intellectually demanding novels of the year."—Thomas McGonigle, Los Angeles Times

"Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra De Gredos, set in an unspecified time in the 21st century, is a beautifully hallucinatory, eerily compelling novel . . . The ‘alternative images' this book offers, lovely epiphanies of the inner life, transcriptions of the shimmering, transcendent quality of an external world we fail to see, are striking contrasts to the vapid electronic fog that surrounds us. The novel issues a fervent call to look again, both inward and outward. Handke's goal, I take it, is to produce a work where it is not ‘the purely external surprising, astonishing, and unusual happenings that provided material,' but one that relies on ‘the astonishing and usual juxtapositions of external and internal, the interactions and indeed the resonances' appropriate to the time and era, a book capable of ‘enlightening the way' (like the rose in the poem.' These snippets of quotation not only announce the extent of Handke's literary ambition but also indicate his marriage of style to purpose, conveyed gracefully by Krishna Winston's translation. While a master of riveting, specific and detailed description, he also makes use of philosophical abstractions, aphorisms and questions marks that liberally sprinkle every page . . . Mile by mile, glittering bit by glittering bit, Handke creates a brilliant mosaic that justifies the ecstatic affirmation with which he concludes his novel, an affirmation that bears comparison with Molly Bloom's in Ulysses. Great writers teach us to read anew. Perhaps Handke is one of them."—Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Washington Post

"Handke has been publishing fiction since 1965 and is widely considered one of the greatest contemporary writers in the German language . . . Intellectually provocative."—Charles Oberndorf, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
"The artistry of Peter Handke's language may well be unsurpassed among contemporary writers in German. His prose is at once serpentine and spare, dreamlike and exacting. In his latest novel translated into English, Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, the Austrian author richly demonstrates his literary gifts, and the translator, Krishna Winston, sensitively renders the mesmerizing beauty of his style. In this book, as in much of Handke's previous work, the most stirring passages disclose the inherent strangeness of the world." —Ross Benjamin, Bookforum

"A wealthy financial savant living in an unnamed river-port city commissions a successful literary author to write her biography—or to create it for her. However, before it can be written, she must travel by plane, automobile, and foot to meet the mysterious writer somewhere in La Mancha. Thus begins her odyssey and perhaps her most important accomplishment yet, causing us to question throughout whether this novel itself is her biography . . . There is definite originality and the occasional humorous passage . . . This whimsical style is good for minute detail, at which Handke excels . . . important for major literature collections and a refreshing break from recent cookie-cutter literary fiction."—Stephen Morrow, Library Journal

"Handke's innovative plays and meditative novels have made him a perennial Nobel candidate. . . This newest fiction shows him at his best . . . The result is a work that embraces a disciplined attempt to acknowledge and celebrate the matter of everyday life (before it vanishes forever?), and a species of literate wool-gathering which seems to confirm Handke's frequently reiterated assertion that all that exists is grist for the artist's mill . . . Nobody writing today surpasses Peter Handke at trying to make sense of it all."—Kirkus Reviews

"In the atmospheric latest from Handke, a nameless female banker in a nameless northern European city decides for obscure reasons to repeat a journey to Spain she took years before, and to commission a nameless author from La Mancha to write her biography. The journey [is] . . . marked by fantastic events that may or may not be taking place and by speculative conversations with the dreamlike figures the woman meets. As she travels, the woman is stalked, possibly, by a half-brother whose name may or may not be Vladimir. When the woman arrives in La Mancha, she dictates the details of her life to the writer, with no particular regard for order or veracity . . . the appeal of this metafictional fable is in its playful surrender to chance."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Crossing the Sierra de Gredos

She wished this were her last journey. The place where she had lived and worked for a long time now always offered more than enough new experiences and adventures. The country and the region...

Read the full excerpt


  • Peter Handke; Translated from the German by Krishna Winston

  • Peter Handke was born in Griffen, Austria, in 1942. His many works include The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, My Year in No-Man's Bay, and, most recently, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, all published by FSG.

  • Peter Handke Lillian Birnbaum