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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

Danilo Kiš

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To purchase A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

Title: A Tomb for Boris Davidovich
Author: Danilo Kiš
Genre: Stories
Written: 1976 (Eng. 1978)
Length: 135 pages
Original in: Serbo-Croatian
Availability: A Tomb for Boris Davidovich - US
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich - UK
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich - Canada
Un tombeau pour Boris Davidovitch - France
Ein Grabmal fr Boris Dawidowitsch - Deutschland
  • Original title: Гробница за Бориса Давидовича
  • Translated by: Duska Mikic-Mitchell
  • The Dalkey Archive Press edition includes an Introduction by Joseph Brodsky and Afterword by William T. Vollman; the Faber edition doesn't (indeed, the Faber paperback doesn't even mention -- not even on the copyright page -- who translated the book)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : artfully wrought tales of revolutionaries

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Criterion . 5/2000 Stephen Schwartz
National Review . 16/5/1980 Linda Bridges

  From the Reviews:
  • "As Kis seems to be telling us, the inventions of Borges are nothing compared to the conceits of verifiable history. While Borges is occasionally unnerving, Kis is, finally, terrifying." - Stephen Schwartz, New Criterion

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Tomb for Boris Davidovich consists of seven different stories, each a description of the life of someone active in revolution -- and consumed by it. Only one, the last (The Short Biography of A.A.Darmolatov), is specifically presented as a mini-biography, but even those that are dressed up as fiction have biography -- the idea of capturing on a few pages the essence of an entire life -- as their ambition.
       It is the Russian Revolution, and its Stalinist aftermath, that is central, but it also strays goes beyond that, with scenes in the Spanish Civil War and elsewhere in Europe. One story, a classical mirror of the title piece (which Kiš claims he chanced upon after writing "A Tomb for Boris Davidovich"), is the one story from a different era (the 14th century), yet it fits in with the scheme of things -- and shows the near-universality of Kiš's concerns across time.
       In story after story the revolution eats its children. The good and the bad, the innocent and guilty. Small deeds come back to haunt the characters, and the arbitrariness of specifically Soviet justice comes to crush all it takes within its sights.
       Kiš's small portraits are almost delicately wrought: significant scenes carefully described, lives reduced to a few deeds or chance occurrences. He begins the collection with story "born in doubt and perplexity", and there's a shadowy uncertainty about all these lives, but he also presents them all in a faux vérité-style, as if this were all truth, and his tales merely documentation. At one point, he goes so far as to suggest (parenthetically):

Perhaps it would have been wiser if I had chosen some other form of expression -- an essay or a monograph -- where I could use all these documents in the usual way. Two things, however, prevent me: the inappropriateness of citing actual oral testimony of reliable people as documentation; and my inability to forgo the pleasure of narration, which allows the author the deceptive idea that he is creating the world and thereby, as they say, changing it.
       The odd lives, the events (the demands of the revolution, lies, betrayals, revenge) with often devastating and unexpected (and not always immediate) consequences make for fascinating stories. The calm tone and often unexpected unfolding of these life-stories in such a short space make them intriguing reads, and there's some power (though also considerable frustration) in the description of the characters' always tragic fates.
       The quiet power of the stories may not appeal to those who want more action and description in their fiction, and Kiš imaginative jumps and attention to specific detail may occasionally seem at odds with his ends, but those attuned to this narrative approach will find A Tomb for Boris Davidovich a remarkable collection.

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A Tomb for Boris Davidovich: Reviews: Danilo Kiš: Other books by Danilo Kis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danilo Kiš (Данило Киш, 1935-1989) was a leading writer in the former Yugoslavia.

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© 2004-2008 the complete review

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