Authors: Danilo Kiš

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Serbian novelist, short-story writer, and screenwriter

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Mansarda, 1962

Psalam 44, 1962

Bašta, pepeo, 1965 (Garden, Ashes, 1975)

Peš5anik, 1972 (Hourglass, 1990)

Short Fiction:

Rani jadi, 1970 (Early Sorrows for Children and Sensitive Readers, 1998)

Grobnica za Borisa Davidovi5a, 1976 (A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, 1978)

Enciklopedija mrtvih, 1983 (The Encyclopedia of the Dead, 1989)


No5 i magla, 1968

Papagaj, 1969

Drveni sanduk Tomasa Wulfa, 1974


Po-etika, 1972

Po-etika, knjiga druga, 1974

%as anatomije, 1978

Homo Poeticus, 1983

Gorki, talog iskustva, 1990

Skladište, 1995

Homo Poeticus: Essays and Interviews, 1995


Danilo Kiš (keesh) was born in Subotica, Yugoslavia, a commercial and industrial city on the Hungarian border. In this regard he has been compared to Joseph Roth and Bruno Schulz, both of whom were born on the borders of the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Two motifs in particular link Kiš to the tradition of the Middle European novel. One is the omnipresence in his works of the troubled past; the other is the looming figure of the father (found in Franz Kafka as well as in Roth and Schulz), particularly in Garden, Ashes and Hourglass. In Kiš nostalgia is blended with foreboding, and sentimentality is absent. In A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Subotica, seen through the eyes of a young man leaving his native city forever, is a picture of the bleakness common to Middle European provincial towns.{$I[AN]9810000980}{$I[A]Ki{scaron}, Danilo[Kis, Danilo]}{$I[geo]SERBIA;Ki{scaron}, Danilo[Kis, Danilo]}{$I[tim]1935;Ki{scaron}, Danilo[Kis, Danilo]}

Kiš’s childhood and early youth coincided with World War II. The German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941 brought with it a savage war between Communist partisans and occupation troops, an equally savage conflict between feuding nationalist groups, and the murderous machinery of the Nazis’ “final solution.” Himself a half-Jew, Kiš lost his father and most of his family in Auschwitz; by his own account, his survival of the massacre of the Serbs and the Jews in 1942 at Novi Sad was miraculous. It is not surprising, therefore, that although his novels are not directly autobiographical, the suffering of the Jews in Yugoslavia and Hungary is a continual theme. Psalam 44, one of Kiš’s earliest works, takes up the persecution of the Jews in Belgrade in the detached, clinical way that is a mark of his style. Garden, Ashes, a surreal memoir of childhood, has been called an ode to the father–in this instance, a father who manages to fling a note from a passing cattle car. Hourglass continues the theme of his own family’s persecution; the title refers to a letter from his father. “The Book of Kings and Fools,” a story in The Encyclopedia of the Dead, is a parable of evil based on the Protocol of the Sages of Zion, the infamous anti-Semitic work that, in Kiš’s words, can be likened to “a book of murderers.”

The work for which Kiš is probably best known is A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. Consisting of seven narratives, actually seven versions of the same story, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich gives a brief account of the self-destruction of the Comintern during the Stalinist terror. Kiš’s characters are for the most part based on real people; his narration of the relationship between victim and torturer is clinical and sparse, calling to mind Tadeusz Borowski’s short story “Proszeg panstwado gazu” (1948; “This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen,” 1967). When it was finally published in Yugoslavia in 1976, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich sparked a storm of protest, which has been attributed to conservative Stalinists and pro-Russian, anti-Semitic nationalists. Although such charges as plagiarism were couched in literary language, the political overtones are unmistakable. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich has been called an expansion of history, and history, it has been noted, can be a dangerous subject for a writer in any country, especially in one where a particular ideology is supreme.

Although Kiš is recognized in Europe as one of the most important postwar writers, he is not widely known in the United States, where his reputation rests largely on A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. Reviews of that work, though generally favorable, show genuine puzzlement that reflects a lack of knowledge of Middle European history and twentieth century literary tradition, as well as Westerners’ difficulty in grasping the often bizarre nature of the institutionalized insanity that is Kiš’s experience. Some critics have pointed out that Kiš is obsessed with evil, but that is to overlook the real quest in Kiš’s works, which can be found in the story that gives its title to Encyclopedia of the Dead in a single, italicized line: “Everything a living man can know of death.”

BibliographyBirnbaum, Marianna D. “History and Human Relationships in the Fiction of Danilo Kiš.” Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture 8 (1989): 345-370. A critical analysis of Hourglass, Psalam 44, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, and Encyclopedia of the Dead.Birnbaum, Marianna D., and R. Trager-Verchovsky. History, Another Text: Essays on the Fiction of Kazimierz Brandys, Danilo Kiš, György Konrád, and Christa Wolf. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988. A good critical study of these authors and their works.Boym, Svetlana. “Conspiracy Theories and Literary Ethics: Umberto Eco, Danilo Kiš, and the Protocols of Zion.” Comparative Literature 51, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 97-122. Discusses Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) and Kiš’s short story “The Book of Kings and Fools” as attempts to subvert anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by returning them to the realm of fiction.Brodsky, Joseph. Introduction to A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, by Danilo Kiš. New York: Penguin, 1980. A valuable source.Czarny, Norbert. “Imaginary-Real Lives: On Danilo Kiš.” Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture 3 (1984): 279-294. Discusses Kiš’s work in terms of artistic objectivism and irony.Horvath, Brooke. “Danilo Kiš: An Introduction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no. 1 (1994): 97-208. A good source for background on Kiš’s major writing and the longest critical and bibliographic work on Kiš in English. Here thoughts and ideas are posited to place Kiš in the context of Central European literature and literary history. It is also useful as a view on the author himself.Kiš, Danilo. Homo Poeticus: Essays and Interviews. Edited by Susan Sontag. Translated by Michael Henry Heim, Ralph Manheim, and Francis Jones. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. A collection of Kiš’s interviews and writings. Provides an excellent insight into his mind and aesthetic creeds.Longinovi, Tomislav Z. Borderline Culture: The Politics of Identity in Four Twentieth-Century Slavic Novels. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993. Compares Kiš with Mikhail Bulgakov, Witold Gombrowicz, and Milan Kundera.Matvejevic, Predrag. “Danilo Kiš: Encyclopedia of the Dead.” Cross Currents: A Yearbook of Central European Culture 7 (1988): 337-349. An analysis of Encyclopedia of the Dead.The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14 (Spring, 1994). Contains a number of articles on Kiš, along with a few of his poems, excerpts from his fiction, and essays.Schwartz, Stephen. “Five Yugoslav Classics.” New Criterion 19, no. 9 (May, 2000): 15-23. Reviews A Tomb for Boris Davidovich in the context of postwar Yugoslav literature.The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14 (Spring, 1994). Contains a number of articles on Kiš, along with a few of his poems, excerpts from his fiction, and essays.Schwartz, Stephen. “Five Yugoslav Classics.” New Criterion 19, no. 9 (May, 2000): 15-23. Reviews A Tomb for Boris Davidovich in the context of postwar Yugoslav literature.
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