A Tomb for Boris Davidović by Danilo Kiš

These are a collection of short stories set in the first half of this century. The settings include the Spanish Civil War and the Russian revolution. 

One thought provoking idea is how history has been changed by people that have died that we don’t know anything about. Danilo follows these people and tells their story. I don’t want to ruin the book, but in all the stories, the main characters mostly end up dying. Methods of death are as follows:

  • Died of vitamin deficiency in Soviet Work Camp in 1941
  • Murdered during escape attempt from Russian prison after being captured in Spanish Civil War. 
  • Survived 10 years of prison camp; no unnatural death
  • Murdered with crowbar by fellow prisoner after both got out of prison camp
  • Dived into foundary fire rather than go back to prison camp

Initially I thought about how large the prison system role played in the Soviet Union. But in thinking it over, I would guess that today in the USA, the prison system plays a larger role in our society with our stupid ‘war on drugs.’ We probably have more people behind bars percentage-wise than the old Gulag system did. 

Danilo Kiš

 There are also a few great lines – he is a fantastic writer, even in translation.

Ireland “…for so long marked the boundary of the known world to navigators.” 

…”the temporary suffering of existence is worth more than the final void of nothingness.”

“Nature gave her everything: intelligence, talent, and beauty.”

…”man is only a speck of dust in the ocean of timelessness…”

Kis has many references to events and people that I didn’t know about. He also uses uncommon vocabulary. Below are words I learned:

pellagra  – A vitamin deficiency disease caused by eating corn-based diet without proteins. It was common in the US south in the 1920’s and 30’s as well as Soviet prison camps. 

Ploesti – oil fields in Romania, US bombed them in WWII after Romania joined Germany 

Cochin Hen – breed of chicken from China, large bird

Talmud – rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, etc. 

Bukovina – region split between Ukraine and Romania

ad acta – A Latin phrase meaning on the archives (filed away as is an unsolved murder)

farrow –  a litter of domestic pigs

brio – the quality of being active, spirited, alive, or vigorous – Kralovec children have lots of this!

Brest-Litvosk Peace Treaty – Signed in Belarus, marks Russia’s exit of WWI

Bolshevik – means “majority” in Russian, eventually became the communist party that founded the Soviet Union

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