Peter Stamm translated from the German by Michael Hofmann

To the Back of Beyond

Publication Date: Oct 03, 2017

160 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $15.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-828-1


List Price US $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-829-8

Man Booker International Prize finalist Peter Stamm explores what it means to be in the middle of nowhere, in mind and in body.

Happily married with two children and a comfortable home in a Swiss town, Thomas and Astrid enjoy a glass of wine in their garden on a night like any other. Called back to the house by their son’s cries, Astrid goes inside, expecting her husband to join her in a bit. But Thomas gets up and, after a brief moment of hesitation, opens the gate and walks out.

No longer bound by the ties of his everyday life—family, friends, work—Thomas begins a winding trek across the countryside, exposed as never before to the Alpine winter. At home, Astrid wonders where he’s gone, when he’ll come back, whether he’s still alive.

Unfailingly perceptive and precise, Peter Stamm gives form to doubts that disturb us all at times: Are we being true to ourselves? Are we loved for our true selves? Following Thomas and Astrid on their separate paths, To the Back of Beyond eloquently traces the effects of loss and the limits of freedom.  

Excerpt from To the Back of Beyond

The light came on in Astrid and Thomas’s bedroom, through the shutters it cast a pattern of stripes on the lawn, which had already lost all color with the onset of darkness. Astrid went into the bathroom, then out to the corridor again, to fetch the sponge bag out of the suitcase. She looked herself in the mirror with that blank expression with which she sometimes looked at Thomas. He used to ask her what she was thinking about, but she would invariably reply, Oh, nothing, and over the years he had begun to believe her and stopped asking.
Thomas folded up the newspaper and laid it on the garden seat. He picked up his glass, thinking he would finish it, then hesitated, rolled the wine around a few times, and set it down next to Astrid’s empty glass, without having touched a drop. It was less a thought than a vision: the empty bench at dawn, the newspaper on it, sodden with dew, and their two glasses, the half-full one containing a few drowned fruit flies. The morning sun was shining through the glasses, leaving a reddish stain on the pale gray wood. Then the children emerged from the house and joined the straggle of other children on their way to school or kindergarten. A little later, Thomas left for work. He said hello to the old woman whose name he had once known but had now forgotten. He saw her out with her dog almost every morning; in spite of her age she had a vigorous walk, and a loud, confident voice when she said hello back to him, as though everything was fine and always would be. By the time he got home at lunchtime, the newspapers and the wineglasses would have been whisked away.

“Stamm’s superb descriptions of alpine nature and internal human conflict (Thomas, wandering through the Alps, often reflects on his wife and family fondly but doesn’t want to return home) are aided by Hofmann’s excellent translation. Even when Thomas’s actions cause pain for those he has promised to love, his introspection makes his impulse to walk away from everything less condemnable. This is a moving work about freedom and wanting.” Publisher’s Weekly 

“In this densely detailed, largely opaque book, the novelist leaves his readers as unmoored as his characters.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Stamm sets up the psychological territory with such quiet precision that the reader succumbs at once: To our surprise, we are reading a love story… Everything is so thoughtfully put together, so gently and subtly observed, that the question of whether Thomas and Astrid will ever be reunited, if such a thing is even possible, gathers an extraordinary pathos and draws us towards this haunting novel’s final twist.” —Tim Parks, Guardian
“Reading To The Back of Beyond, his third novel, one begins to discern recurring themes in his work: man-woman relationships, marriage, desire, infidelity, family, a particular bourgeois matrix of life that can become a trap despite it – or even, because of it – being the end-point of the individualist desire that lies at the foundation of capitalist societies…As the novel nears its end, Stamm does two skilful things with time: the first is to indicate effortlessly its passing in large segments, so that we move from the earlier calibration of time as hours and days through weeks and months to years and decades; the second, to loop back in time to give us the story of how Astrid and Thomas came to be together…Stamm’s interest does not lie in the texture of lives that are usually depicted by novelists in lyrical- or psychological-realism, especially in the logical progression of events that generally provides the dynamo for plots…Stamm is not even interested in psychological interiority. He is more concerned about something that I can only call existential, something that will be indicated merely through the most oblique of hints…The translation, by Michael Hofmann, a mighty critic and poet as well as one of the foremost translators from the German language, does an impeccable job in rendering the blanched austerity of Stamm’s style and its deliberate affectlessness.” New Statesman 

“As usual with Stamm, the story gets its energy from an intriguing blankness about motive, with nothing presented by way of justification for Thomas’s actions…exceptionally moving writing…” Guardian 

“The fiction of Peter Stamm, an acclaimed Swiss novelist who writes in German and has a growing reputation in English, finds drama in the ordinary…Stamm eschews gothic detail or excess of emotion…To the Back of Beyond is the story of a midlife crisis…In Michael Hoffman’s translation, Stamm’s prose has a hypnotic quality. It is more common in German than in English to splice together complete clauses with commas; Hoffman preserves the punctuation, which effectively conveys the drift and elision of image and detail that gives the narrative its dreamlike tinge…His realism is pressed into the service of metaphysics: the idea that others are most alive in our imagination. This is either romantic and consoling, or existentially bleak, depending on your taste. If the rigours of the unsettling form that Stamm has devised limit his freedom to dramatise his characters, this high-wire act between sentimentality and nihilism is nevertheless an ingenious and beautiful creation.” Financial Times 

“…This is an optimistic, even romantic book. It praises the rejuvenating power of nature, examines how identity is formed in collaboration with those around us and somehow manages to see the good in long-term relationships, even as it presents a lengthy list of reasons why a person might choose to exit one. Stamm’s cool, atonal style suits this sort of subject. It makes the moral at the centre of the fable that bit deeper – it makes it real.” Literary Review 


Praise for Agnes:

“A kind of parable…simple and haunting.” —New York Review of Books

“Agnes is a moody, unsettled, and elusive little fable—and it’s always interesting.” —Wall Street Journal

“A provocative and mesmerizing book.” —Publishers Weekly

“An urgent and unsettling read.” —Library Journal

“This short novel should appeal to readers enchanted by [Stamm’s] elliptical style . . . an extended meditation on the interrelationship between life and fiction.” —Kirkus