Just as popular culture is not really culture - that's why it gets a room to itself - so a cult classic is not really a classic, nor even a cult once so designated by the good people who decide these things
On the basis of this (highly regarded) late collection, Kis's reputation among Jews, Hungarians, Serbs and all-round cognoscenti* is undeserved. It's a slight work, and not only in bulk, its influences (Borges, Eco, Nabokov, possibly Buzzati) all too evident even to a novice like me. The stories are nine in number. The first two merely underwhelm. The central premise of the title story, that we can ever know a person from an accumulation of externals or trivia, harks back to Balzacian realism and is fundamentally misconceived; attaching its title to the whole collection, though, is marketing genius and utter pretension combined. #4 is fantasy/horror, #5 horror shading into gothic. #6, the most successful, is saved by its wry wit..('Grow roses only in the cemetery - for roses are fatal to the soul.') #7 is more gothickry and #8 a pointless bibliographic riff on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that relies far too much for comfort on Norman Cohn's Warrant for Genocide, incidentally a far better read. (This was originally to have been an essay, Kis has the decency to tell us in a postscript, until he discovered that Cohn had already covered all the ground. Credit accrues to him of a kind for parsimoniously recycling his material.) #9 is sub-Nabokovian parody and really rather fun (Miss Nina Roth-Swanson must have sounded particularly well in the original Serbo-Croat) but at twelve pages it feels over-stretched; besides, Craig Brown can turn this sort of thing out for Private Eye while standing on his tousled head. I was looking forward to this. Underwhelmed? I was gutted
Michael Henry Heim comes up with one felicitous phrase when he talk of the White Russians' 'terrible leisure', but a polemist (p20) is a polemicist, une enfant is also wrong (but that could be down to Kis) and 'How to conceal their sudden drop in spirits?' (p103) should be 'lowering in spirits'. Spirits don't drop, they sink - at least mine did. Finally, '***'s texts... eventually fell into good ground' (p136) should be 'fell on good soil' (the reference is self-consciously biblical; Heim should have consulted the Authorized Version) or possibly 'took root'
* Viz the Guardian's fatuous comment, in its review of 6 June last year, that he 'actually' [sic] looked a bit like a rock star. Dream on, Byatt and Mantel!