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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Peter Handke

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To purchase Kali

Title: Kali
Author: Peter Handke
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 161 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Kali - Deutschland
Kali - France
La montagna di sale - Italia
  • Eine Vorwintergeschichte
  • Kali has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : poetic, but heavy on the mystic-elegiac

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 3/2/2007 Hubert Spiegel
NZZ . 11/2/2007 Andreas Breitenstein
TLS . 15/6/2007 Ben Hutchinson
Die Welt . 3/2/2007 Ulrich Weinzierl
Die Zeit . 8/2/2007 Ursula März

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, though most quite impressed -- though the general feeling also seems to be: not for everyone

  From the Reviews:
  • "Schlichter, unbekümmerter, mit derart nachlässig aufgesetzter Einfachheit ist wohl noch keines der Bücher Peter Handkes dahergekommen. Mit dieser trüben Erlösungsphantasie gerät Handke allmählich in die betrübliche Nachbarschaft eines Robert Schneider und dessen Schmonzette Die Luftgängerin." - Hubert Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Was zunächst als posthistorischer Traum erscheint, entpuppt sich als verschärfte Gegenwart (…) Nachtwandlerisch und episodenreich, voller poetischer Szenen und surrealer Auftritte ist der Gang der Frau aus der ‘Allerwelt’ hinaus. (…) Schreckliche Schönheit, witzige Melancholie und heiteres Grauen liegen über Kali. Sanft und brutal, selbstbezogen und aufopferungsvoll agieren die Figuren, alle scheinen sie schuldbeladen und erlösungsbedürftig. (…) Das ist viel messianisches Pathos auf einmal, gewiss. Manch einer wird es unerträglich finden. Doch Peter Handke gibt sich in Kali nur scheinbar ungedeckt seinen eschatologischen Träumen hin. Was seinem Evangelium Charme verleiht, ist eine tiefgreifende Ironie im poetischen Verfahren." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Handke contrives simultaneously to evoke a sense both of descriptive precision (through his eye for detail) and of enigmatic uncertainty (through his use of narrative questions, through what he does not say)." - Ben Hutchinson, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Wie bei seinem Don Juan, als er die mythologische Figur nach seinem inneren Bildnis umformte, ist dem Traumrealisten Handke abermals ein veritables Kunststück geglückt: Er hat den mittelalterlichen Lancelot-Roman, den "roman de la quête" vom ewig Suchenden, ins Heute übertragen. Mit all seiner Unbedingtheit der Leidenschaften und seiner archaischen Abstraktheit. Wer es fassen kann, der fasse es, würde die Pastorin sagen." - Ulrich Weinzierl, Die Welt

  • "Wir sehen Peter Handke in seiner ganzen Fähigkeit zur sentimentalen Aufladung ontologischer Kindlichkeitsutopien samt ihren christlichen Erlösungsszenerien. Und wir sehen Peter Handkes grandioses ästhetisches Temperament, dessen Experimente den schlichten Wahrheitsanspruch solcher Erlösung, gleichsam aus den Kulissen der Erzählung heraus, infrage stellen. Anders gesagt: Kali folgt dem Prinzip des Epos in lehrbuchhafter Einfachheit und ist dabei komplex bis über beide Ohren. Deutungs- und positionsverunsichernd wie Spiegelsäle -- die es in der Geschichte auch wirklich gibt." - Ursula März, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Kali is anything but straightforward, though there is a progression of sorts, as the narrative follows a singer on a strange trip home (or near home, or somewhere, anyway ...) after the last concert of the season. There is a peculiar omniscient narrator, who follows her trail and records what happens, but we are definitely in Handke-land here, where people don't much interact as in real-life and among whom pontification seems to have largely replaced conversation -- a world of literally and emphatically mythic proportions.
       The narrator is oddly obsessed with the singer, and remains at a remove from her. The account even begins with trepidation:

Auch mir hat sie Angst gemacht, macht sie Angst. Aber ich möchte mich ihr stellen.

[She scared even me, scares me. But I want to confront it.]
       It's all ambiguity: does the narrator fear her or the story he is relating ? Is he hoping to come to terms with his fears or with the singer or this story ?
       Part of dealing with it is in telling it, and Handke does convey that attempt to impose some shape on formlessness, to let his 'story' coalesce as if almost on its own into a narrative. But, again, that doesn't make for a very conventional tale.
       Kali is an odyssey, and it takes on a mythical feel. Asked where she is going to spend the winter, the singer tries to explain (no one explains things unambiguously in Kali ...):
In meine Kindergegend. Oder nein, in der Nachbargegend. [...] In der Gegend hinter meiner Gegend.

[In my childhood-parts. Or, no, in the neighbouring parts. [...] In the parts behind my parts.]
       It's a place she, who has been everywhere, hasn't been. And the only special thing about those parts ? Lots of salt (yes: kali) and salt-mining. No surprise then that her journey leads her deep down into the salt-mines eventually.
       A woman priest she encounters complains of the new generation, and a world in which everything is reduced to nonsense (literally: "Unsinn"), as she is able just to hold onto sense in her own four walls and among her books. Is it Handke complaining about the incomprehension he faces ? At times it sounds that way ... yet his simple solutions are the most fanciful dreams -- as when at the salt-mines the singer is told that the deep mines are like a reverse Tower of Babel, the lower down the workers go, the more readily they understand each other. At least: "vorläufig" ('preliminarily').
       What communication Handke offers seems both deep and airy. There are few exchanges, and most speak in statements -- both absolute and ambiguous. So also a command into the air, "Laß eine Feder fallen, Falke" ('Let a feather fall, falcon'), is enough to send a feather wafting down .....
       This is a world of timelessness, too -- even more emphatically underground, where at one point the journey continues: "Gegen Abend, oder gegen Morgen, oder gegen Mitternacht" ('Towards evening, or towards morning, or towards midnight' -- whereby the German gegen also means against, as Handke doesn't seem willing to miss an opportunity to add a sense of (if not outright) ambiguity -- pity the poor translator !).
       Near the end someone accuses or diagnoses the singer of being a "geborene Finderin" (a 'born finder' -- and, as one of the few prominent plot-points is a missing child, a particularly valuable ability) and asks her how she does it. She offers some tips, in a scene where Handke barely seems able to contain himself (and hide his authorial presence): don't stand still when looking, don't look where you think you lost what you are looking for, look elsewhere (even to the sky ...), etc. She insists:
Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm ? Weit vom Stamm fallen manche Äpfel. Weit. So weit.

[The apple doesn't fall far from the tree ? Some apples fall far from the tree. Far. So far]
       Of course, it's easy for an author to remind dull readers that if they don't get it maybe they aren't looking in the right places; certainly, this is a book in which Handke feels under no obligation to drop his clues in a convenient trail in front of his readers' noses, page after page. It makes for an often frustrating text, its mytho-poetic appeal almost willfully undermined. But then it is also a sort of preamble, a journey of collection that will only lead to story-telling -- and "Zurück zur Prosa" ('Back to prose') -- but doesn't offer it itself (or offers only a rudimentary version, a flailing not so much for the proper words (though there's some of that too) but for narrative itself).
       An odd book, and hardly entirely satisfactory -- but then part of Handke's appeal is his refusal to make it easy (and the facility with which he plays his games). In a portion of this size, even Handke at his most exasperating (as he occasionally is here) is, at least, manageable.

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Kali: Reviews: Peter Handke: Other books by Peter Handke under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Austrian author Peter Handke was born in 1942. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2019.

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© 2007-2023 the complete review

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