Review: The Lute and the Scars (Danilo Kiš)

This book consists of six stories written by Kiš between 1980 and 1986, transcribed and published after his death in 1989. Five of the stories—”The Stateless One”, “Jurij Golec”, “The Lute and the Scars”, “The Poet”, “The Debt”, and “The Marathon Runner and the Race Official”—are directly related to The Encyclopedia of the Dead, while “A and B” was originally without a title. There is no overarching theme in the stories, A preface by Adam Thirlwell, an afterword and helpful notes by the translator, John K. Cox, accompany the pieces. I find these supplementary articles crucial for me to understand the contexts of the stories.”The Stateless One”, for example, was inspired by the life of Ödön von Horváth. Although on a slight downside, they have slightly deprived me of some surprises and nuances—the case of “A and B”, particularly.

The past few weeks—filled with periodic checking of Indonesian news outlets and aggregating a related list of (what I think are credible) twitter accounts on Indonesian politics—have left me feeling rather hollow and overwhelmed at the same time. And I found myself deeply missing reading fictions. With only 137 page, the book is a quick read that you can finish in less than two hours. Yet, like other books by Kiš, this is one book you don’t want to finish.  While perhaps it is not as lyrical or evocative as Garden, Ashes or The Encyclopedia of the Dead, through its detached forms—a play of fake documents, postscripts of unsubstantiated rumour—we find juxtaposed, haunting impressions that not only give me some solace, but also a breather to sort out my thoughts in  current situation.

I shall be looking forward to reading his biography soon :)

Title: The Lute and the Scars
Author: Danilo Kiš
Publisher: Dalkey Archive, 1994
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