Translated and with an introduction by John K. Cox
This volume of translations represents the entire dramatic and cinematic ouevre of the Yugoslav writer Danilo Kiš (1935-1989). The seven dramas and screenplays are accompanied by a historical introduction by the translator, John K. Cox, who has also translated two of Kiš’s novels (The Attic and Psalm 44) and a volume of his short stories (The Lute and the Scars). Written mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, the themes of the works in this anthology vary widely. Of the seven translations in Night and Fog, two address classical literary themes, one is a dramatization of part of Kiš’s own A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, and the others explore personal and political conflicts during the Holocaust and the first decades of socialism in Tito’s Yugoslavia and Hungary. What they have in common is Kiš’s ear for precise language, telling detail, epistemological and narrative anxiety, and, in most of the pieces, his eye for the personal costs and often lethal emotional turmoil of individuals in communist and fascist systems. As readers work their way through the torturous and unsatisfying workings of the characters’ memories, they are also exposed to many seldom-discussed details of life in Tito’s Yugoslavia from the split with the Cominform in 1948 to the student uprisings of 1968. Many people who knew Kiš consider A Wooden Trunk for Thomas Wolfe to be his finest play; it is the chronicle of the intense relationship of two men, one broken by Hitler’s death camps and the other by Stalinism, as they wrestle with their own physical infirmities and artistic impotence. Night and Fog, the translator’s favorite, originates in the same milieu—the multicultural region of Vojvodina between Belgrade and Szeged— as Kiš’s other autobiographical writings about the childhood of a young male character named Andreas Sam. But in this play a twenty-something Sam tracks down a married couple in Hungary who had been teachers in his wartime home town, and their three-way sparring over contested memories transitions slowly from nostalgia to bitter awareness of lies and collaboration. The Mechanical Lions is a must for anyone who has read A Tomb for Boris Davidovich; this stage version of the main story in Kiš’s path-breaking eponymous short story collection leads through terrain familiar to readers of Darkness at Noon and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Written with vintage Kiš wryness, spareness, and emotional force it bounces around through time and place to tell the story of the Soviet purges in the 1930s, and honor and historical truth join Old Bolsheviks and international activists on the secret police’s hit list.