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Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale

3.3 174
by Mark Helprin

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Now a major motion picture A bestseller that takes readers on a journey to New York of the Belle Epoque, where Peter Lake attempts to rob a Manhattan mansion only to find the daughter of the house at home. Thus begins the love between the middle-aged Irishman and Beverly Penn, a young girl who is dying. “This novel...is a gifted writer’s love affair


Now a major motion picture A bestseller that takes readers on a journey to New York of the Belle Epoque, where Peter Lake attempts to rob a Manhattan mansion only to find the daughter of the house at home. Thus begins the love between the middle-aged Irishman and Beverly Penn, a young girl who is dying. “This novel...is a gifted writer’s love affair with the language” (Newsday).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Issued on audio for the first time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its publication, this version of Helprin's classic novel is a huge disappointment. Helprin's book is one of the great works of American fiction of the last quarter-century and a classic New York novel, but Oliver Wyman reads it as if it were a bedtime story for children. Playing up the whimsy of Helprin's urban fantasy, Wyman entirely misunderstands the nature of the book, which is more philosophical than fanciful, and with a sense of imagination not childish but deeply adult. Not grasping these facts, Wyman treats the book as a New York "Harry Potter," and the result is a mess unworthy of this great book. A Harvest Books paperback.(Apr.)

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Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The celebrated New York City epic appears for the first time in trade paperback in anticipation of publication of Helprin's new novel, Memoir from Antproof Case. (Mar.)
Library Journal
"This novel is imaginatively engaging as well as entertaining, and it will find an eager audience among adults and older adolescents alike," predicted LJ's reviewer quite accurately (LJ 8/83)-the book became a smash best seller. This magical story of the multiple lives of protagonist Peter Lake is now available in an oversized trade paper edition.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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3 MB

Read an Excerpt


THERE WAS a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood. The air was motionless, but would soon start to move as the sun came up and winds from Canada came charging down the Hudson.

The horse had escaped from his master's small clapboard stable in Brooklyn. He trotted alone over the carriage road of the Williamsburg Bridge, before the light, while the toll keeper was sleeping by his stove and many stars were still blazing above the city. Fresh snow on the bridge muffled his hoofbeats, and he sometimes turned his head and looked behind him to see if he was being followed. He was warm from his own effort and he breathed steadily, having loped four or five miles through the dead of Brooklyn past silent churches and shuttered stores. Far to the south, in the black, ice-choked waters of the Narrows, a sparkling light marked the ferry on its way to Manhattan, where only market men were up, waiting for the fishing boats to glide down through Hell Gate and the night.

The horse was crazy, but, still, he was able to worry about what he had done. He knew that shortly his master and mistress would arise and light the fire. Utterly humiliated, the cat would be tossed out the kitchen door, to fly backward into a snow-covered sawdust pile. The scent of blueberries and hot batter would mix with the sweet smell of a pine fire, and not too long afterward his master would stride across the yard to the stable to feed him and hitch him up to the milk wagon. But he would not be there.

This was a goodjoke, this defiance which made his heart beat in terror, for he was sure his master would soon be after him. Though he realized that he might be subject to a painful beating, he sensed that the master was amused, pleased, and touched by rebellion as often as not-if it were in the proper form and done well, courageously. A shapeless, coarse revolt (such as kicking down the stable door) would occasion the whip. But not even then would the master always use it, because he prized a spirited animal, and he knew of and was grateful for the mysterious intelligence of this white horse, an intelligence that even he could not ignore except at his peril and to his sadness. Besides, he loved the horse and did not really mind the chase through Manhattan (where the horse always went), since it afforded him the chance to enlist old friends in the search, and the opportunity of visiting a great number of saloons where he would inquire, over a beer or two, if anyone had seen his enormous and beautiful white stallion rambling about in the nude, without bit, bridle, or blanket.

The horse could not do without Manhattan. It drew him like a magnet, like a vacuum, like oats, or a mare, or an open, never-ending, tree-lined toad. He came off the bridge ramp and stopped short. A thousand streets lay before him, silent but for the sound of the gemlike wind. Driven with snow, white, and empty, they were a maze for his delight as the newly arisen wind whistled across still untouched drifts and rills. He passed empty theaters, countinghouses, and forested wharves where the snow-lined spars looked like long black groves of pine. He passed dark factories and deserted parks, and rows of little houses where wood just fired filled the air with sweet reassurance. He passed the frightening common cellars full of ragpickers and men without limbs. The door of a market bar was flung open momentarily for a torrent of boiling water that splashed all over the street in a cloud of steam. He passed (and shied from) dead men lying in the round ragged coffins of their own frozen bodies. Sleds and wagons began to radiate from the markets, alive with the pull of their stocky dray horses, racing up the main streets, ringing bells. But he kept away from the markets, because there it was noontime even at dawn, and he followed the silent tributaries of the main streets, passing the exposed steelwork of buildings in the intermission of feverish construction. And he was seldom out of sight of the new bridges, which had married beautiful womanly Brooklyn to her rich uncle, Manhattan; had put the city's hand out to the country; and were the end of the past because they spanned not only distance and deep water but dreams and time.

The tail of the white horse swished back and forth as he trotted briskly down empty avenues and boulevards. He moved like a dancer, which is not surprising: a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music. With a certainty that perplexed him, the white horse moved south toward the Battery, which was visible down a long narrow street as a whitened field that was crossed by the long shadows of tall trees. By the Battery itself, the harbor took color with the new light, rocking in layers of green, silver, and blue. At the end of this polar rainbow, on the horizon, was a mass of white-the foil into which the entire city had been set-that was beginning to turn gold with the rising sun. The pale gold agitated in ascending waves of heat and refraction until it seemed to be a place of a thousand cities, or the border of heaven. The horse stopped to stare, his eyes filled with golden light. Steam issued from his nostrils as he stood in contemplation of the impossible and alluring distance. He stayed in the street as if he were a statue, while the gold strengthened and boiled before him in a bed of blue. It seemed to be a perfect place, and he determined to go there.

He started forward but soon found that the street was blocked by a massy iron gate that closed off the Battery. He doubled back and went another way, only to find another gate of exactly the same design. Trying many streets, he came to many heavy gates, none of which was open. While he was stuck in this labyrinth, the gold grew in intensity and seemed to cover half the world. The empty white field was surely a way to that other, perfect world, and, though he had no idea of how he would cross the water, the horse wanted the Battery as if he had been born for it. He galloped desperately along the approachways, through the alleys, and over the snow-covered greens, always with an eye to the deepening gold.

At the end of what seemed to be the last street leading to the open, he found yet another gate, locked with a simple latch. He was breathing hard, and the condensed breath rose around his face as he stared through the bars. That was it: he would never step onto the Battery, there somehow to launch himself over the blue and green ribbons of water, toward the golden clouds. He was just about to turn and retrace his steps through the city, perhaps to find the bridge again and the way back to Brooklyn, when, in the silence that made his own breathing seem like the breaking of distant surf, he heard a great many footsteps.

At first they were faint, but they continued until they began to pound harder and harder and he could feel a slight trembling in the ground, as if another horse were going by. But this was no horse, these were men, who suddenly exploded into view. Through the black iron gate, he saw them running across the Battery. They took long high steps, because the wind had drifted the snow almost up to their knees. Though they ran with all their strength, they ran in slow motion. It took them a long time to get to the center of the field, and when they did the horse could see that one man was in front and that the others, perhaps a dozen, chased him. The man being chased breathed heavily, and would sometimes drive ahead in deliberate bursts of speed. Sometimes he fell and bolted right back up, casting himself forward. They, too, fell at times, and got up more slowly. Soon this spread them out in a ragged line. They waved their arms and shouted. He, on the other hand, was perfectly silent, and he seemed almost stiff in his running, except when he leapt snowbanks or low rails and spread his arms like wings.

As the man got closer, the horse took a liking to him. He moved well, though not like a horse or a dancer or someone who always hears music, but with spirit. What was happening appeared to be, solely because of the way that this man moved, more profound than a simple chase across the snow. Nonetheless, they gained on him. It was difficult to understand how, since they were dressed in heavy coats and bowler hats, and he was hatless in a scarf and winter jacket. He had winter boots, and they had low street shoes which had undoubtedly filled with numbing snow. But they were just as fast or faster than he was, they were good at it, and they seemed to have had much practice.

Copyright © 1983 by Mark Helprin

All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

MARK HELPRIN is the acclaimed author of Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, Freddy and Fredericka, The Pacific, Ellis Island, Memoir from Antproof Case, and numerous other works. His novels are read around the world, translated into over twenty languages.

Brief Biography

Upstate New York
Date of Birth:
June 28, 1947
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
A.B., Harvard University, 1969; A.M., 1972. Postgraduate study at Oxford University, 1976-77.

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Winter's Tale 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 174 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is ethereal. I found it difficult to believe that this was written in the early eighties, because in some places Helprin's descriptions of things - a workplace that sounds a lot like Google, for example - are just spot on. The language is almost Baroque at times, and there are clunkers here and there, but the overall effect is magical and timeless. It's a shame that the ebook version is so poorly rendered though. It seems clear to me that somebody just scanned in the text and never cleaned it up. There seem to be NO apostrophes at all, so that we're appears as were and the possessive appears as the plural. Sometimes random numbers or symbols appear in the text where presumably the scanner failed to recognize the character. This sort of sloppiness is insulting to both author and reader, and if you're going to charge me for a book I expect it to be in better shape than this, B&N.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book of all time. Its a long tale so you must be patient when reading- but the story pays off in the long run. I fine myself checking the bookstore shelves to see if Helprin has written anything since! This story is magical and it makes you want to put yourself inside the narrative
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't think anything I could write here could do this novel justice. Winter's Tale is my all time favorite book. I just finished reading it for the second time and am absolutely speechless. Helprin's style of writing is poetic and you feel closely connected emotionally with all his characters. Its fantastic and realistic all at the same time. Its a long book to read, but I think most people will be surprised by how quickly you finish it. Once you're hooked, there's no way to put it down
Atthebeach More than 1 year ago
I love Helprin's books. Once I read "A Soldier of the Great War", I was hooked. And now I have read every one of his books. ("Memoir from Antproof Case" is my favorite!) They're not easy reads, but they are so worth the effort. "A Winter's Tale" seems the most complex, at times hard to follow, over the top fantastical. But it is so worth finishing and knowing you have read this divine work. You simply have to remember that it's fantasy and then just float with it. Yes, the horse flies. Who says they don't? I couldn't begin to describe this story. I think only Mark Helprin could do that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At the first breath of Winter, every year since putting the book aside, I find myself once again being aborbed into the mystical city represented in the novel. And when this happens I look for the first snowy day when I could return to lower Manhatten, and in a crowded, brawling kind of a place, find a corner seat where I could lap up grilled oysters over a glass of ale -- and immerse myself in the dream. Over the years this inclination has remained merely a fancy, a simple acknowledgement of the spell this book has cast on me. To be best enjoyed, this book 'should' be read on cold winter days with at least a hint of snow in the air.
Hilton-Head-Reader More than 1 year ago
This book requires more than one reading. It is a masterful piece of fantasy and a total delight to the senses. The scenes are breathtaking and totally memorable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love reading and am interested in a wide variety of books, including time travel stories. I was excited to read this book and see the movie (until I read the book). Unfortunately all the way through the 600 plus pages, I kept hoping I would get it. I didn't get it. About halfway through I thought it was strange that I did not know what the story was about. I now finished the book and I still do not know what the story was about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book at random while looking for a big book that would take me a long time to read - it took me less than 2 weeks! I could not put it down! I usually am not drawn to fantasy-based type stories and at first was a little disappointed when I realized this was that type of story. But the narrative was so poetic and rich I kept reading until I was hooked - I struggled to keep my eyes open long into the night while I read. A beautiful powerful story - highly recommended - let your imagination soar!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is by far one of the hardest reads I have ever had to endure. The reviews of this book had me clinging to the hope of redemption to the bitter end as I was so excited about reading this book after seeing movie previews. My excitement was soon replaced by dread. The pages of descriptions and delay in revealing the storyline made me want to skim and skip constantly. It simply drags on and does not have a plot or climax worth the pain of getting through 600 pages. Disappointed:(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love to read. I like love stories, and mysteries and books that make you think, fantasies and science fiction. I HATED this book. The flowery writing is confusing and I couldn't follow a lot of what was going on. I made myself finish it, and the ending was not worth it. I was left going "Huh?" I didn't get the symbolism (if that's even what it was) and it leaves a key character's ending hanging with, "That is a question you must answer within your own heart." 750 pages and I didn't get an ending? I have thrown 3 books in my life across the room I was so mad at the end, and this was #3.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is extremely rare for me to dislike a book so much. But this is the second time I feel taken and cheated by this book; I bought it when it was first published and had apparently cleansed it from my mind bc I recently bought it again for my nook! I am extremely generous with authors - I want them to entertain me! I will try and try to find something worthwhile in almost every book I pick up. I am willing to believe the author put sincere effort in to their art. But I find nothing but arrogance in this work. That is the only explanation I can find for the excruciating, semi-poetic waste of language on a story that goes nowhere for and for no seeming purpose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a 600 page sleeping pill.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the author was very wordy. He could have cut the book by 200 pages and still got the plot across. The plot was very confusing and didn't know who the different characters were as they were reintroduced. I can't imagine this being a successful movie if it was cast as the as the plot was played out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a tedious and ridiculous book and I regret the whole experience!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On page 126. The writing is enchanting and to be savored slowly like a favorite taste. Unfortunately I am interrupted at least once a page by the appaling typing errors. I have owned one version or another of a Nook since they first became available and was very patient with errors of this type at the beginning. Clearly as the models are "improved" and offer more and more features, and of course cost more, it is past time for these kind of errors to exit at all let alone be so frequent. Its a big problem and brings the reader annoyingly out off the beautiful story time after time! Time to seriously get with the program B&N!
LemonBars More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books. Fantastical yet grounded in human emotions. I've read it repeatedly over the years until the pages are falling out and cover is soft, and each time, I find something new in the story that I didn't perceive or understand before. It is wonderful to be swept along with an author seemingly giddy with storytelling and words.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Perhaps the thing to be most admired about Winter's Tale is the scope of Mr. Helprin's compassion and humanity. The character's (all flawed, except for Beverly) all achieve a level of dignity and honor that most authors don't have the ability to evoke out of similar narrative styles. When Beverly finally passes, the degree of Peter Lake's grief is sublimely heroic. This book has carried me a few times and it always seems to be in mid-December when I need to be carried the most. Thank You Mr. Helprin
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh, good...glad to know I'm not the only one. I really should've read reviews prior to purchasing this book. I've been reading this book for over 3 weeks and am not half way through. It's wordy, boring and I just want it to end. Now that I know the stories won't come together, I may give up. I can't find passion for any of the characters and don't like them. I was excited to read the book and see the movie, not any longer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great descriptive writing, but takes you to a place of erratic timeline and incoherent plot. Only a fraction of the story is a love story. The descriptions of old New York are intriguing but not enough to carry a pointless story. I hear they are making a movie...I imagine it will be 5 hours long and released on dvd after two failed weeks at select, limited theatres.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The splendid author of A Soldier of the Great War, brings us something different in Winter's Tale. The difference isn't his mastery of prose-poetry. There are few ARTISTS of words as good today as Helprin. The difference is that the hard edges of Soldier are replaced by soft allusiveness here. It's almost as though the author is preening his talent for us - just to demonstrate his range. For anyone who likes beautiful writing, you must buy this book and A Solidier of the Great War too. Once you finish both, you'll know Helprin's working up to a magnum opus of some sort he's going to leave behind one of these days as his legacy to world literature. Unlike most of the beach trash on the shelves today, when you finish reading this, you'll know you're reading someone who'll be read in 100 years. Treat yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the few books ever that I could read over and over and never be afraid of knowing the ending. Helprin writes as a bird flies, and makes me lose myself in his world, sad to return to this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the reviews for this book and hoped I'd be in the half that loved it. Sadly, that was not to be. I gave it 166 pages--about a third of the book-- and it just went nowhere. It starts out ok about the man and the horse he finds. Then it totally leaves them and it's like a whole new story was beginning. I kept waiting for some kind of connection but it never came. Reading is supposed to be a pleasure not a chore. This was definitely too much work . Maybe the movie will make more sense.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when it first came into paperback and this was my first Mark Helprin book. I have since read it at least five time and enjoyed it even more each time. The characters are magic and real while you know that all the pictorial aspects of this version of New York are totally unreal or realistic. Since then I have read a Soldier of the Great War and Refiners Fire. Both were very impressive but didn't 'speak' to me like Winters Tale. I am a fantasy freak. Buy and Enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be slow and tedious. I got to a point where I didn't even care what happened to the characters. It was way too long. I didn't bother to finish it.