Danilo Kis
New York: Penguin Books, 1980 from 1976 original
Translated by Duska Mikic-Mitchell
ISBN # 0-14-00-5452-9
135 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2007

Danilo Kis presents 7 short pieces (I hesitate to call them stories) all of relatively minor figures in the Russian Revolution. These 7 dark pieces are more like prose-poem portraits of tragic figures living a world of few positive choices. Twice along the way he repeats a central theme:

“… (provided our thesis is acceptable that, despite everything, the temporary suffering of existence is worth more than the final void of nothingness).”

These revolutionaries have hope of creating a better world with their actions, but they are often their own worst enemies in making positive achievements.

Were one to make a film of these stories it would be necessary to do them in the mode of film noir.

Verbal painting in dark and tragic tones is one strong mark of Kis’s style and so is irony. One story, “The Sow that Eats Her Farrow” is the tale of Verschoyle who fled Dublin to fight in the Spanish Civil War and does the heroic deed of revealing a plot of the Russians to gain authority in Republican Spain. The irony is that the Spaniard he reveals this plot to is in the pay of the Russians, who then…. Well, I’ve leaving the ending open.

Another feature of Kis’s pieces is that most of them involve situations which are best described as senseless. Ah wait, senseless within the vision of world and value that I have. Perhaps it is to give credence to some different notion of world, meaning and value that Kis writes. “The Magic Card Dealing” is a good example of this where inmates are playing cards in prison where the stakes are the freedom to demand any service. Kostik loses and is ordered to murder Taube. It is 8 years later before the chance presents itself but he still accepts his debt.

The last two stories – the title story and an alleged translation of a 14th century document underline the same theme. Boris Davidovich is the victim of Stalinist tactics of using torture to ensure confessions which betray innocent people. Kis then compares this to a very similar case during the Spanish Inquisition in 1330.

Danilo Kis reveals himself as a talented, dark and philosophical writer. Given the briefness of each portrait I found the book to be quite a quick read, but the power of his vision nagged at me for several days after I finished the reading itself.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu