Birth Certificate by Mark Thompson
The Story of Danilo Kis

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Synopsis

Danilo Kis (1935–89) was a Yugoslav novelist, essayist, poet, and translator whose work generated storms of controversy in his homeland but today holds classic status. Kis was championed by prominent literary figures around the world, including Joseph Brodsky, Susan Sontag, Milan Kundera, Philip Roth, Nadine Gordimer, and Salman Rushdie. As more of his works become available in translation, they are prized by an international readership drawn to Kis's innovative brilliance as a storyteller and to his profound meditation on history, culture, and the human condition at the end of the twentieth century.

A subtle analysis of a rich and varied body of writing, Birth Certificate is also a careful and sensitive telling of a life that experienced some of the last century's greatest cruelties. Kis's father was a Hungarian Jew, his mother a Montenegrin of Orthodox faith. The father disappeared into the Holocaust and the son—cosmopolitan, anticommunist, and passionately opposed to the myth-drenched nationalisms of his native lands—grew up chafing against the hypocrisies of Titoism. His writing broke with the epic mode, pioneered modernist techniques in his language, fulminated against literary kitsch, and sketched out a literary heritage "with no Sun as its Center and Tyrant." Joyce and Borges were influences on his writing, which nevertheless is stunningly original. The best known of his works are Garden, Ashes; The Encyclopedia of the Dead; Hourglass; The Anatomy Lesson; and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.

Over the course of nearly two decades, Mark Thompson studied Kis's papers and interviewed his family members, friends, and admirers. His intimate understanding of the writer’s life and his sure grasp of the region’s history inform his revelatory readings of Kis’s individual works.More than an appreciation of an important literary and cultural figure, this book is also a compelling guide to the destructive policies which would, shortly after Kis’s death, generate the worst violence in Europe since World War II. Thompson’s book pays tribute to Kis’s experimentalism by being itself experimental in form. It is patterned as a series of commentaries on a short autobiographical text that Kis called "Birth Certificate." This unusual structure adds to the interest and intrigue of the book, and is appropriate for treating so autobiographical a writer who believed that literary meaning is always deeply shaped by other texts.

 

About Mark Thompson

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Mark Thompson is the author of A Paper House: The Ending of Yugoslavia , Forging War: The Media in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina , and The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915ndash;1919 . He lives in Oxford.
 
Published March 19, 2013 by Cornell University Press. 372 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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With Thompson’s exhilarating feat of biography and literary criticism, English readers can finally gain an introduction to the cerebral and experimental works of Yugoslavian poet, novelist, and playwright Danilo Kis.

Dec 17 2012 | Read Full Review of Birth Certificate: The Story ...

National Review Online

The idea that he was given some other name at birth and chose to rename himself after his father doesn’t seem unthinkable, considering his complicated relationship with his father and sense of identity… * UPDATE: “Mr. Vice President, it’s up to you to solve the mystery.” ANOTHER UPDATE: Craig, a ...

Jun 10 2008 | Read Full Review of Birth Certificate: The Story ...

The New York Review of Books

His father, Eduard Kiš, was a Hungarian Jew who after failing in business found a job in the Yugoslav Ministry of Railways, where he eventually reached the rank of chief inspector and prepared the official Yugoslav timetable for rail, bus, ship, and plane travel, an accomplishment of which his so...

May 23 2013 | Read Full Review of Birth Certificate: The Story ...

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