The Flying Mountain

Christoph Ransmayr

Translated from German by Simon Pare

Seagull Books

S. Fischer Verlag 2006

The Flying Mountain

In a world that is all too full of realist novels written in undistinguished prose, discernible only by their covers, 'The Flying Mountain' stands out—if for no other reason than that it consists entirely of blank verse. It tells the epic story of two brothers who leave the southwest coast of Ireland on an expedition to Transhimalaya, the land of Kham, and the mountains of eastern Tibet—looking for an untamed, unnamed mountain that represents perhaps the last blank spot on the map. As they advance towards their goal, the brothers find their past, and their rivalry, inescapable. But only one of the brothers will return, and, transformed by his loss, he will start life anew, trying to understand the mystery of love—yet another quest that may prove as impossible.


Excerpt from Chapter 2 “Horse Island. The inheritance in West Cork” from The Flying Mountain by Christoph Ransmayr (tr. Simon Pare; © Seagull Books 2018)

Black walls, sheer and overhanging in places,
with seabirds wheeling around them,
drop 200 metres down
into the waves rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean,
gouging and smashing everything in their path.

Up until the day we set out
for western China and Tibet,
I climbed these crumbling rock faces and cliffs
by dozens of routes
of vastly varying difficulty,
mainly with my brother for company,
secured by his rope,

sometimes without a safety line, close by his side,

and once only
—it was in a thunderstorm
that smoked up like a mushroom cloud
over Roaringwater Bay,
and then rushed towards Horse Island—
alone, ropeless
and as if numb with fear;
hailstones and rocks rattled down
on me from the dark sky while the gusts
threatened to tear me from the wall.
Way below me, the hailstones and rocks plunged
noiselessly into the breakers.

On summer days, when the ocean
in some bays fell so smooth and silent
that even the slap of the fin
of a seal sliding off a sunny rock into the water
was audible from afar,
we would approach these black walls
by boat, peer through our binoculars
for new starting places and ascents,
drop anchor a safe distance before the reef,
jump into the water, swim to the rock face
and then let the sea carry us up
to the first step of a path leading to the clouds
which we could see high above,
drifting serenely away
over the outermost edge of the pastures.

As I swam I sometimes had a sensation
of flying over chasms,
valleys and mountain peaks.

Far beneath me, floating fields of seaweed cascaded
into the submarine darkness
and sunken, shell-encrusted ribs of rock,
past which pebbles and stones,
white with bird droppings, dislodged
by the claws of flocks of launching gulls,
sank twisting through the water,
sank down
to the foot of a cliff, to depths
beyond reach of sounding lines.

As I swam I felt the gentle,
almost imperceptible breakers
carry me like a rising current
over every abyss,
raising me higher and higher
towards the top of a black mountain
that reared out of the sea
(and towards the clouds it reflected).

Should I finally find my footing
on a submerged rock
and catch a hold to pull myself
out of the mirror of clouds,

I would sometimes let myself
sink back into the weightlessness
with the disappointed sigh
of someone awaking from a dream of flying,
back into the sea;
and so I would begin my climb
a second or a third time.

On those summer days
we would always climb without a rope,
leap back into the sea
when faced with impassable sections
or become so absorbed in our games
that we were too high to jump
and were suddenly forced onwards
and upwards to that dark, jagged edge
that divided Horse Island from the sky.

But when at last we stood at the top,
and there was no more doubting that we’d reached our goal,
because the next step led no higher,
only into the void,

we found ourselves not on a summit,
but gazing once more at grazing cows
across a summer pasture,
saw the boat far below us
rocking amid dazzling reflections
and, relieved, walked back
(along a winding path carved
from the rock) to sea level.
Each of our upward paths
began with a descent to the sea.

that even the heights and peaks
of the barren mountains furthest from the sea
are measured in relation to sea level
and therefore that every ascent
equates to a path out of the sea,
we gave our routes the names of fish—
Turbot, Hake or Cod—
and avoided marking or signposting them,
but kept an exact log of the course,
difficulty and length of each ascent.

The only route not named after a fish
was one of the most difficult and was called
Passage to Kham
because that mountain, in whose shadow
my brother would finally disappear,
caused us sleepless nights long
before we struck out for Tibet. 


"A haunting tale, epic in scope, bringing together familial and national histories in a tender and powerfully-observed account of brotherly love." —Irish Times

Ransmayr’s heroic narrative is enhanced by his use of beautifully balanced blank verse, his mastery over his medium absolute. 'The Flying Mountain' is an outstanding work of great sophistication, ultra-modern in its technology theme and as ancient as time in the tragic inevitability of the denouement. —The Swansea Bay Reporter

'The Flying Mountain' is a powerful and well-told story, the verse-like presentation particularly effective; the novel is a resounding, and nicely haunting, success. —Complete Review

"We mention once again the translator, Simon Pare, whose achievement was all the more remarkable, given that it required him to translate German free verse into English free verse, and he did so in a way which preserved and perhaps even enhanced the spirit and idiom of the original." —2018 Boardman Tasker Award judgement, delivered by Peter Gillman at Kendal on 16 November 2018


    Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

    Shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2018

    Winner of the 2018 Straelen Most Promising Translator Prize