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Danilo Kiš

[From De-Construct]

Brilliant novelist, essayist and translator, one of Serbia’s best and most translated writers, Danilo Kis has passed away on October 15, 1989, in Paris. According to his will, he was buried in Belgrade, by the Serbian Orthodox burial rites.

Immensely gifted, Kis was born in 1935 in Subotica, northern Serbian town in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, to a Hungarian Jewish father and Serbian mother. His family house was brimming with fertile atmosphere of Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, a mixture of Hungarian and Serbian culture. He was a writer of vast energy and erudition, of richly layered cultural, historical and linguistic heritages seamlessly weaved into powerful human drama.

Of his Serbian/Jewish/Hungarian heritage, Kis wrote:

“Those two faiths … and the awareness of the dual belonging was like a shock, especially after the war. On the one hand, the epic tradition of the Serbian heroic ethos, passed on to me by my mother, along with the bitter Balkan reality, and on the other, a middle-European literature and decadent and baroque Hungarian poems. Into this mixture, made of clashes and contradictions, my Jewish being will get involved, not in a religious sense, but in the essentially cultural optics, as a researcher.”

A member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Art (SANU) and a recipient of the French Order of the Knight of Arts and Literature, Kis mirrored the strong influence of the highly multi-ethnic and multi-religious surroundings of his hometown and Serbia in general.

Baptized into Serbian Orthodox Church in 1939, Kis was shaped as a writer by the German Nazi occupation and a devastating personal blow that affected his childhood and the rest of his life — passing of his father Eduard who was taken to Auschwitz in 1944, from which he never returned.

“The first poem I wrote — I had nine years then — had hunger for the subject, while the second, more or less at the same time, had the subject of love. There, that’s the scenario: agony, persecution, death... is still the foundation of my work”, Kis wrote in The Bitter Residue of Experience.

After the war, in 1947, with the help of charity organization, Danilo, his mother Milica and sister Danica were given a house in Cetinje, where he finished high school in 1954. He graduated at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, in 1958, as the first graduate at Department of History of the World Literature, with Literary Theory. Two years later, he finished the post-graduate studies.

Kis’ first two novels “Mansarda” and “Psalm 44 were published in 1962, by the Belgrade-based Kosmos, novel “Garden, Ashes” was published in 1965, collection of stories “Early Sorrows (For Children and Sensitive Readers)” in 1969.

For the novel published in 1972, “Hourglass”, Kis received NIN award which he returned several years later. One of his probably best crafted, masterfully written collection of stories “A Tomb for Boris Davidovich” was published in 1976. Kis’ polemics book “The Anatomy Lesson” was published in 1978.

He published his masterpiece, “Encyclopedia of the Dead”, collection of stories that crowned his work, in 1984. Already ill, he was translating Lautréamont, Verlaine, Queneau’s “Exercises in Style” and edits his early translations the same year. He was teaching Serbian language and literature in France, at the universities of Strasbourg, Lille and Bordeaux.

He was also a recipient of a number of national and international awards for his prose and poetry.

[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Danilo Kiš (Serbian Cyrillic: Данило Киш) (February 22, 1935–October 15, 1989) was a Yugoslavian novelist, short story writer and poet who wrote in Serbo-Croatian. Kiš 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.

Life and work 

Danilo Kiš was born in Subotica, Danube Banovina, Kingdom of Yugoslavia (now Serbia) the son of Eduard Kiš (Kis Ede), a Hungarian Jewish railway inspector, and Milica Kiš, a Montenegrin (born Dragićević) from Cetinje. His Jewish father was born in Austria-Hungary with a surname Kon, but changed it to Kis as part of Magyarization, a widely implemented practice at the time. During the Second World War, Danilo's father along with several other family members, were killed in various Nazi camps. His mother took him and his older sister Danica to Hungary for the duration of the war. After the end of the war, the family moved to Cetinje, Montenegro, Yugoslavia, where Kiš graduated from high school in 1954.

Kiš studied literature at the University of Belgrade, and graduated in 1958 as the first student to be awarded a degree in comparative literature. He was a prominent member of the Vidici magazine, where he worked until 1960. In 1962 he published his first two novels, Mansarda and Psalam 44. For his 1973 novel Peščanik ("Hourglass"), Kiš received the prestigious NIN Award, but returned it a few years later due to a political dispute.During the following years, Kiš received a great number of national and international awards for his prose and poetry.

He spent most of his life in Belgrade until and last decade between Paris, France and Belgrade. Number of years he was working as a lecturer elsewhere in France.

Kiš was married to Mirjana Miočinović from 1962 to 1981. After their separation, he lived with Pascale Delpech until his early death from lung cancer in Paris.

A film based on Peščanik (Fövenyóra) directed by the Hungarian Szabolcs Tolnai is finished in 2008.

In May 1989 with his friend, director Aleksandar Mandić, Kiš made the four-episode TV series Goli Život about lives of two Jewish women. The shooting took place in Israel and program was shown after his death, in the spring 1990. This is the last work of Danilo Kiš.

Kiš was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and was due to win it, were it not for his death in 1989. 


  • Mansarda: satirična poema, 1962 (novel) (English title: "The Garret")
  • Psalam 44, 1962 (novel)
  • Bašta, pepeo, 1965 (novel) ("Garden, Ashes'")
  • Rani jadi: za decu i osetljive, 1970 (short stories) ("Early Sorrows - For Children and Sensitive Readers")
  • Peščanik, 1972 (novel) ("Hourglass")
  • Po-etika, 1972 (essay)
  • Po-etika, knjiga druga, 1974 (interviews)
  • Grobnica za Borisa Davidoviča: sedam poglavlja jedne zajedničke povesti, 1976 (short stories) ("A Tomb for Boris Davidovich")
  • Čas anatomije, 1978 (novel)
  • Noć i magla, 1983 (drama)
  • Homo poeticus, 1983 (essays and interviews)
  • Enciklopedija mrtvih, 1983 (short stories) ("The Encyclopedia of the Dead")
  • Gorki talog iskustva, 1990 (interviews)
  • Život, literatura, 1990 (interviews and essays)
  • Pesme i prepevi, 1992 (poetry)
  • Lauta i ožiljci, 1994 (short stories)
  • Skladište, 1995 (texts)
  • Varia, 1995 (essays, articles and short stories)
  • Pesme, Elektra, 1995 (poetry and an adaptation from the drama "Elektra")
  • Goli Život 1989-90, host in documentary TV Series

English translations

  • Garden, Ashes (1975, William J. Hannaher)
  • Early Sorrows: For Children and Sensitive Readers (1998, Michael Henry Heim)
  • Hourglass (1990, Ralph Manheim)
  • A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (1978, Duška Mikić-Mitchell) The Encyclopedia of the Dead (1989, Michael Henry Heim)
  • Homo Poeticus: Essays and Interviews (1995, Ralph Manheim, Michael Henry Heim, Francis Jones)
  • Mansarda (2008, John K. Cox)