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Kiš lightning

Nice appreciation of Danilo Kiš in Tablet magazine:

Kiš remains far too unknown in the United States, despite being championed by the likes of Aleksandar Hemon, William Gass, and Philip Roth, who helped to introduce him to the English-speaking world by including him in his influential Writers From the Other Europe series. In 1980, under Roth’s editorship, Penguin published Kiš’s story collection A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, which included “The Knife With the Rosewood Handle.” Since then, amidst a period when major publishers have shown fitful interest in foreign fiction, Kiš’s work has been shepherded by university and independent presses. Several of his books remain untranslated, but this month, Dalkey Archive will publish new translations of two short novels and a story collection — The Attic, Psalm 44, and The Lute and the Scars — that offer an important chance to reassess his work and return him to the front ranks of world literature. What emerges most poignantly is the theme of inheritance, both literary and historical, and of how Kiš hacked through the thicket of memory to find, if not solace, then a tenuous accommodation with the past. In his writings on the Holocaust, Kiš also produced some precocious insights about the nature of remembrance and its potentially malign influence on art.


In Yugoslavia, Kiš suffered abuse from the local writers union, whose hardline Stalinist members accused him of plagiarism, a charge that stemmed both from his Jewishness and from his being out of step with the dogmatic school of socialist realism. (He also tended to trumpet his non-Yugoslav influences, providing some ammunition for his nationalist critics.) In his introduction to A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Joseph Brodsky says that this treatment was enough to send Kiš into a “nervous shock.”

Among the newly translated works published by Dalkey is Kiš’s first novel, The Attic. Written in 1960 and subtitled “A Satirical Poem,” the book is the story of a young writer living a bohemian life in Belgrade, where he courts a woman he calls Eurydice and lives in an insect-infested apartment. The novel has some witty moments, but it’s a scattershot collage, its varied parts less coherent and appealing than his later work.

First posted: Saturday, August 25th, 2012.

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