Peter Handke, an Austrian with some Yugoslav background, is the author of many acclaimed novels, plays and books of poems. His 1990's memoir on a trip to war-ravaged Yugoslavia brought almost universal European disapproval because of his sympathy for the Serbian point of view, among other matters.
He is fearless in his condemnation of injustice from any quarter, similar, some think, to the younger Gunter Grass.
Handke's work is characterized by a dreamlike yet meticulous observation of people and events. "Afternoon of a Writer" traces the shifting moods and anxieties of a writer wandering through a city while he seeks to return to his manuscript.
"Absence", a remarkable short novel, follows some persons glimpsed seemingly at random on the street and high in the windows of an institution. Slowly, Handke weaves his characters together in a remarkable, surrealistic narrative which nevertheless sticks to the earth and sharp visual detail making the whole improbable, though beautifully told story seem hauntingly naturalistic. John Updike wrote (on "Afternoon of a Writer"):
"With a phenomenal intensity and delicacy of register, this little book captures the chemistry of perception and of perception's transformation into memory and language. We are there with the writer, behind his eyes and under his skin."
"Intensity" is a word often used to describe Handke. His writing does not build characters in a conventional sense. All is connected to his fierce perception and single, insular point of view. Yet we are sure that the characters within the scope of his vision are real or could be real.
His novels are short. The best translations are those of Ralph Manheim, the miraculously good translator of Gunter Grass.