The Encyclopedia of the Dead, Danilo Kis

Danilo Kis’ collection of short stories is as concentrated in meaning as a message in a bottle, which travels through time. Every story contains the world, like Borges’s Aleph or like a fractal, because it condenses the feeling and the thought of the one and only moment. And this moment thus turns into eternity.

The homonym short story describes an encyclopedia in constant renewal, aiming to include all those who lived without being distinguished for something in history. It could include all of us and everyone before us and everyone after us. This living encyclopedia saves every detail from everyone’s life, preserves all the dusty moments that scatter in time and becomes the encyclopedia of eternal life.

In a way, the truth is reflected in its opposite in all the stories. Simon, wanting to prove the truth of his miracles, transcends life. The three sleeping inside the cave, Dionysios, Ioannis and Malchos, come out into the hands of the crowd to light after an eternity, with fossilized and whole memories that they were anxious to forget. What is a dream and what is an awakening? Little Berta, realizing that for a moment her mirror shows nothing, reflects the void. In this void is erased the knowledge, which the others, still asleep, did not understand, as the night was not over. The story of the teacher and the student fulfills its purpose in reverse, as the moral lesson is not what is expected.

The young Esterhazy, in “Death is glorious for the sake of the homeland” has made his decision, but the hope really perish last[1], as he turns to his mother, to fulfill the role of the hero intact. In the “Book of Kings and the Fools”, which tells the story of the “Manuscripts of the Wise Men of Zion”, with the virtues of the fictional narrative, it draws us to a world where the imagination shapes reality. Finally, in “The Red Stamps in the Form of Lenin”, written in the form of a letter, we learn about the author Mendel Osipovich – a fictional hero – and his real dimensions from the woman who lived in his shadow for a lifetime. With very intelligent humor, he highlights the story of a woman, who illuminates with contrasts what we should know.

Danilo Kis is the magician who, through his narration, creates a genuine reality, an eternal truth, that only an insightful imagination could create. With material contrasts he constructs the world from the beginning. He saves it intact. He preserves it forever. He closes it in the bottle of writing, to deliver it to us as it is, without anything unnecessary. As a gift.

Anastasia Karavasileiou

[1] It’s a common Greek phrase

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