Last week Dalkey Archive released three newly-translated books by Danilo Kiš.
I’ve read one of his earlier books from Dalkey Archive, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, and it was a great collection of stories, so I’m really looking forward to these three new ones.
Two are novels and one is a collection of stories. They are all part of Dalkey’s relatively new Serbian Literature Series. And, of course, I can’t help but like their serial-style cover designs. So here is an introduction to these three books.
This is the last major work of fiction by Danilo Kiš to be translated into English, and his only novel dealing explicitly with Auschwitz (where his own
father died). Written when he was only twenty-five, it shows Kiš at his most lyrical and unguarded, demonstrating that even in “the place of dragons . . . covered with the shadow of death,” there can still be poetry. Featuring characters based on actual inmates and warders, Psalm 44 is a baring of many of the themes, patterns, and preoccupations Kiš would return to in future, albeit never with the same starkness or immediacy.
This is Danilo Kiš’s first novel. Written in 1960, published in 1962, and set in contemporary Belgrade, it explores the relationship of a young man, known only as Orpheus, to the art of writing; it also tracks his relationship with a colorful cast of characters with nicknames such as Eurydice, Mary Magdalene, Tam-Tam, and Billy Wise Ass. This bohemian account of one young man’s quest to find a way to balance his life, his loves, and his art is rich with references to music, painting, philosophy, and gastronomy.
Many of these stories are autobiographical. Others resurrect protagonists belonging to Kiš’s fellow Central European novelists. Against a background of oppressive regimes and political exile, readers will find that the never-ending debate between death and writing continues unabated in these stories—death as allegory or as a voluntary symbolic act, and writing as the one impregnable defense, writing as the only possible means of survival.