on 27 November 1998
With humanity and sympathy, Kis recounts selected events in the lives of young men making their way in pre- and post-WW2 socialist europe, providing vivid snapshots of life in these countries. Its charm lies in the poetry and conciseness of the story telling, its realism and the refusal of the author to make motives explicit or to make any moral judgement. It is easy to read and makes a refreshing change.
on 29 January 2012
Before opening this book, my understanding of it was that Kis tried to write a fictionalized account of the destruction of devoted members of the Comintern, in a style inspired by Borges. The book's seven short chapters followed -- by means of allusive, digressive vignettes -- the lives of Poles, Russians, Romanians and others in Europe who believed in the Revolution, were betrayed by it, and died. In the book's introduction, Joseph Brodsky described the work as history transformed into mythology.
Unfortunately, this approach didn't speak to me at all. The novel felt willfully pedantic and opaque, and detached in the extreme. The author seemed to rely generously on citation of obscure names and dates and other digressions. I failed to grasp how these advanced the story or supported any points the writer was trying to make.
I found a book like Darkness at Noon to be a much clearer and therefore more powerful indictment of willful enslavement to an idea. And a book like Kolyma Tales to be a much clearer depiction of the treatment of people by a dehumanizing regime, written unforgettably. Reading Kis's Tomb, in contrast, was like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. Those with a much greater tolerance for obscure, digressive writing will get a lot more from the book than I was able to.
Some of the more exciting passages:
"The only historical personage in this story, Edouard Herriot, the leader of the French Radical Socialsts, Mayor of Lyons, member of the Chamber of Deputies, Premier, musicologist, etc., will perhaps not play the most important part. Not because (let us state at once) this part is of less importance to the story than that of the other person--unhistorical though no less real--who appears here, but simply because there are many other documents about historical personages."
"All this is more or less written on the walls and in the frescoes of Kiev's Saint Sophia. The rest is only historical data of lesser significance: the church was founded by Yaroslav the Wise in 1037, in eternal memory of the day he triumphed over the pagan Petchenegs."
"As irrelevant as it may seem at first (we shall see, though, that this irrelevancy is only an illusion), we cannot fail to mention at this point . . ."
"'The Book of the Evil One' is only one of the famous metaphors for the no-less-famous Talmud."
"Also on the mother's side was an aunt, Yadviga Yarmolaevna, who was living with them and slowly drifting into dementia--the only respectable fact in the poet's early biography."