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Encyclopaedia of the Dead (European Classics) [Paperback]

Danilo Kis , Michael Henry Heim
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

28 Feb 1998 European Classics
Continuing the European Classics series, here is the first paperback edition of ". . . one of the finest fantastic collections since Borge's FICCIONES" (THE NATION). In these stories Danilo Kis depicts human relationships, encounters, landscapes--the multitude of details that make up a human life. "Remarkable . . . . A shadow of death darkens this book, but it is a beautiful shadow and a luminescent darkness".--THE NEW REPUBLIC.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press; New edition edition (28 Feb 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081011514X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810115149
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 852,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"This is one of the finest fantastic collections since Borges's "Ficciones."" --Brendan Lemon, "The Nation"

About the Author

Danilo Kis (Serbian Cyrillic: Данило Киш) (February 22, 1935-October 15, 1989) was a Yugoslavian novelist, short story writer and poet who wrote in Serbo-Croatian. Kis was influenced by Bruno Schulz, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges and Ivo Andrić, among other authors. His most famous works include A Tomb for Boris Davidovich and The Encyclopedia of the Dead. Michael Henry Heim (born January 21, 1943) is a Professor of Slavic Languages, at the University California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He received his doctorate at Harvard in 1971. He is an active and prolific translator, and is fluent in Czech, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Serbo-Croatian.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stories about inevitable 30 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It took almost six months from the day I ordered this book, until it came out of print and I received it in my mail. It took me less than a week to read it...This is a book of stories about people who find their death in different ways. Kis mixes myths and legends of the Bible to: middle eastern legends, female intuition, patriotism, death anticipation due to long and difficult illness. Each story is setup in its own time, century, country and is viewed from different perspective. And all these situations and places combined, make up this wonderful book. My favorite story was "The Encyclopedia of the Dead". It sounds so personal, that anyone who knows a little bit about Danilo Kis' life, can see a lot of Kis himself - in this story. Mr. Heim did wonderful job translating this work. However, I was a bit disappointed that Mr. Haim did not make an effort to write an introduction for this book. Writer's notes at the end of the book were extrimely helpful in understanding stories more deeply and understanding what he wanted to accomplish with this work of art.

Many of Danilo Kis' reders like to remember him as writer who had Borges for an idol. Please, let us not forget that Kis had admirerers himself - no one less than Joseph Brodsky, amongst others.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stories about inevitable 30 Mar 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It took almost six months from the day I ordered this book, until it came out of print and I received it in my mail. It took me less than a week to read it...This is a book of stories about people who find their death in different ways. Kis mixes myths and legends of the Bible to: middle eastern legends, female intuition, patriotism, death anticipation due to long and difficult illness. Each story is setup in its own time, century, country and is viewed from different perspective. And all these situations and places combined, make up this wonderful book. My favorite story was "The Encyclopedia of the Dead". It sounds so personal, that anyone who knows a little bit about Danilo Kis' life, can see a lot of Kis himself - in this story. Mr. Heim did wonderful job translating this work. However, I was a bit disappointed that Mr. Haim did not make an effort to write an introduction for this book. Writer's notes at the end of the book were extrimely helpful in understanding stories more deeply and understanding what he wanted to accomplish with this work of art.

Many of Danilo Kis' reders like to remember him as writer who had Borges for an idol. Please, let us not forget that Kis had admirerers himself - no one less than Joseph Brodsky, amongst others.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Only death is certain.' 12 Sep 2008
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've not previously read Mr Kis's work and I was not sure what to expect. I read this collection in translation (by Michael Henry Heim). This was the first book I could obtain, and I was totally swept up in the beauty of the prose from beginning to end. This collection of nine stories touches on a number of facets of life: relationships, encounters and experiences. Each is unique. Each illustrates a different aspect of existence, including questioning the notion of divine order.

`Everything a living man can know of death.'

Because of these differences, I suspect that each story could be my favourite on a different day or read. Each provides food for thought and the language is exquisite. On this read, I particularly enjoyed `Simon Magus' and his questioning of divine order, `To Die for One's Country Is Glorious' describing the final hours of Esterhazy, and the reading journey of the bereaved daughter in the title story.

In fewer than 200 pages, Mr Kis has managed to evoke a set of experiences and reactions that linger on in the mind. Where does life end, and death begin? Are the boundaries mutable or immutable? We will each have (or form) our own private views on this question. For myself, I am delighted to have read this book and will be looking to read more of Mr Kis in translation.

`History is written by victors. Legends are woven by people. Writers fantasize. Only death is certain.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Great Stories Out of Nine.... 7 Oct 2008
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
... and those two are enough in my card catalogue to justify a five-star rating. How many novelists have written even one great short story? I suppose I should have read one of Danilo Kis's novels first, as my first encounter with such an acclaimed author, but I like short stories. I especially admire coherent, cohesive collections of stories written as a suite. "The Encyclopedia of the Dead" is certainly just such a cohesive suite of stories, all of them concerned with death, all of them more or less metaphysical "conceits" in the older sense of the word. A comparison to Jorge (not Jose) Luis Borges, the Argentine master of metaphysical prose, is inevitable. Kis acknowledges Borges in his postscript to this collection. The title story is pure Borges in conception.

'Simon Magus' and 'Last Respects', the first two stories in the book, are well-crafted prose, at least in English translation, but left me quite unimpressed. They and several later stories are too-clever stylized parables, anatomizing in the mummified cadaver of the religious imagination. Jewish or Christian, it's been done, and done more persuasively.

The third story, 'Encyclopedia of the Dead,' however, captured my imagination from the start. The conceit is this: a woman gets special permission to visit a mysterious library. Inside and alone, she searches out a certain book, an encyclopedia of all the people who have ever lived whose names are NOT included in any other encyclopedia. In that book, every detail of the lives of such otherwise forgotten people is recorded. The woman immediately begins to read about her father, who has recently died. I won't tell more; it's a superb construct, a profound synecdoche of the memory and forgetfulness of humanity. In his postscript, by the way, Kis ruminates briefly on his discovery, after the writing, of a real-time counterpart to the 'encyclopedia' -- the underground archives of genealogy maintained by the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Utah.

The other Great Story in the collection, "The Book of Kings and Fools," also has a real-time counterpart, but the process of writing and recognition were reversed. Kis, in his postscript, tells us that he became fascinated with the "true and fantastic" pernicious history of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," that fraud that never seems to be properly exposed and discredited. Kis originally intended to write an essay about the route of dissemination of that anti-semitic forgery, but he discovered that there were so many missing links, between the well-documented initial perpetration and the world-wide self-sustaining willful perpetuation of the lies, that he could only turn to his authorial imagination to complete his essay in fictive form. Once again, the result is a profound sardonic 'conceit,' a story worthy of comparison with the best of Borges.

Two out of nine? Good enough! I'm hooked. Let's see, what Danilo Kis shall I read next...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and original fiction 30 Sep 2012
By Bookworm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'd heard about Danilo Kis recently, and read this collection on an airplane trip. These metaphysical and strange stories captivated me. Without having plot or character in the usual sense, they manage to achieve suspense. The title story gripped me and had one of those lyrical endings hard to find in short fiction- but several others (not all) were on this level, too. Have ordered more of this author.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stories from a twentieth-century master 12 May 2014
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Danilo Kis was one of the great writers of fiction from the second half of the twentieth century. He would have been a more deserving Nobel Prize winner during the 1980s than half of the writers who actually received the award. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD is the third book of his that I have read. It was well worth reading and I recommend it. But it takes a back seat to the two previous books of his that I read ("A Tomb for Boris Davidovich" and "Garden, Ashes"), which are both extraordinary works of fiction. That circumstance, perhaps unfairly, affects my assessment of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD.

This is a collection of nine short stories, ranging from seven to forty pages. As far as I can discern, there is no overarching theme, although the stories share a sufficient family resemblance to mark them as coming from the pen of the same writer. All, to varying degrees, have a dose of the fantastical. Some are very much in the mode of parables. Kis's penchants for lists and striking similes are often evident. A similarity to many of the tales of Borges is also evident, although in general I prefer Kis over Borges because of the former's greater humanism.

The title of the book is also the title of one of the stories, the best of the stories for that matter. In "The Encyclopedia of the Dead", the narrator spends a night in the Royal Library in Stockholm. She looks up her father in the one and only copy of the multi-volume "Encyclopedia of the Dead". One striking thing about the "Encyclopedia" is that the single precondition for inclusion is that the person in question cannot be listed in any other encyclopedia. Beyond that, "what makes the 'Encyclopedia' unique (apart from its being the only existing copy) is the way it depicts human relationships, encounters, landscapes--the multitude of details that make up a human life." In the case of the narrator's father, the Encyclopedia records every aspect and detail of his life. For example, concerning his wedding the text gives a list of the witnesses and guests, the name of the priest who officiated, the toasts and songs, the gifts and givers, the food and drink. But the Encyclopedia "is concerned with more than material goods: * * * it deals with spiritual matters, people's views of the world, of God, their doubts about the existence of the beyond, their moral standards." The import of the "Encyclopedia of the Dead" is that "nothing in the history of mankind is ever repeated, things that at first glance seem the same are scarcely even similar; each individual is a star unto himself, everything happens always and never, all things repeat themselves ad infinitum yet are unique." This contrasts with Borges, where (as in his "The Library of Babel") the individual and the particular are obliterated and lost to eternity in the seemingly infinite universe of details.

Two other stories from THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD warrant individual mention here. One, "The Book of Kings and Fools" is an elaborate account of a quasi-legendary book, "The Conspiracy, or the Roots of Disintegration of European Society". It soon becomes evident that "The Conspiracy" is a stand-in for "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and that Kis is telling about how a book of fantasy ended up having such vile real-world consequences. The other is "Red Stamps with Lenin's Picture", which is a love story of sorts, and probably, at bottom, a story of the love and devotion given Kis by his wife Mirjana, whom he treated rather shabbily.

Kis is an author well worth reading. If you begin with THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD, don't stop there. Go on to "A Tomb for Boris Davidovich" and "Garden, Ashes". And if they captivate you as much as they did me, you probably will also enjoy the unconventional biography of Kis by Mark Thompson, entitled "Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis".
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