cover image The Birth Certificate: 
The Story of Danilo Kis

The Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis

Mark Thompson. Cornell Univ., $40 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8014-4888-1

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. Born in 1935, Kis came of age following WWII and the death of his father and other family members in concentration camps. With the rise of Tito’s dictatorship, Kis became a staunch antinationalist and anticommunist, an intellectual cosmopolitan who pioneered modernist prose experiments that were gently critical of Yugoslavian society and that turned Kis into a controversial figure. As his international reputation grew, Kis was championed by prominent authors such as Salman Rushdie and Susan Sontag, and was a contender for the Nobel Prize before his death in 1989. Appropriately for its subject, Thompson’s biography has an experimental flavor, structured as an extended gloss to a short autobiographical essay written by Kis. The biographical commentary is punctuated with extended “interludes” that offer interpretations of Kis’s most famous works, which include A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, The Anatomy Lesson, and The Encyclopedia of the Dead. Thompson (The White War), a graceful writer and storyteller in his own right, restores Kis to his rightful place in the pantheon of 20th-century writers in a biography that should appeal to any reader interested in contemporary world literature. (Mar.)