cover image Hourglass


Danilo Kis. Farrar Straus Giroux, $39.95 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-374-17287-9

Particularly fascinating in this difficult and demanding novel, regarded by many as the late author's finest, is Kis's agile re-creation of the multi-ethnic culture of the border territory between Hungary and Yugoslavia. Set in 1942, the novel describes in rich, Kafka-esque terms the external and internal worlds of a railway clerk called E.S. whose quotidian concerns include antagonism toward his well-to-do sister Netty, quarrels with her son George about a piece of jointly owned property, and futile, indignant inquiries to the authorities about why his pension has been reduced. But Kis uses this ``life'' of a victim as a counterpoint to his second story line, which matter of factly reveals an exploding, horrific world in which Jews are murdered in countless mundane or outlandish ways, commit suicide, or simply disappear while the general population goes mad. The novel is fleshed out by a series of questions and answers elicited by an ominous, unseen person who interrogates E.S. A final ``letter'' reveals that the preceding text is a manuscript, written by E.S., meant to be ``a bourgeois horror story,'' a telling summation of this ultimately rewarding novel. (Aug.)