The Right Hand of Sleep


THE RIGHT HAND OF SLEEP is an amazing novel, one that touches on
themes of morality, society, family, history, right, and wrong.
It's a powerful story that reads like a whisper, a cool fog, a
melancholia found in the gauzy corners of one's mind.

This is the tale of Oskar Voxlauer, a likable protagonist who also
has his foibles and difficulties in life. He's remarkably human, a
hero who is heroic in the most basic sense --- someone who is just
like everyone else, with worries and fears, joys and hopes. Oskar
was a teenage deserter from the Austro-Hungarian army in World War
I and, as the novel unfolds, he is returning home to the Austrian
village of his birth. Back in his village he hopes to live a calm
life, a life no longer filled with the horrors, sights, and scenes
he witnessed those 20 years ago during the War and later in the
Ukraine, where his Russian lover died and his socialist ideas
crumbled away.

It is 1938. Hitler has marched into Austria and the Black Shirts
have come to the valley in which Oskar was born and raised. Oskar
opposes the Nazis and takes a job as a gamekeeper in a stretch of
forest high in the hills in order to get away from everything, to
live quietly. Here he meets Else Bauer, the old gamekeeper's
daughter. They become friends and live a briefly happy existence
together. However, there is no escape from the tension that
continues to grow in the town. When Kurt, Else's cousin (or is he
something more?), returns to Austria as the head of the Nazis in
their small village, a triangle forms among Oskar, Else, and Kurt
--- and life becomes more and more dangerous for them all.

Filled with the richest detail, haunting and fleshed-out
characters, recollections of Oskar's wartime experiences and the
Ukrainian countryside, THE RIGHT HAND OF SLEEP deserves to sit on
the same bookshelf as the great work of Charles Frasier and Michael
Ondaatje. The dialogue resonates. The narrative flows like a river
at dusk.

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 23, 2011

The Right Hand of Sleep

  • Publication Date: May 14, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375706402
  • ISBN-13: 9780375706400