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Hourglass (Family Cycle Trilogy #3)

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  386 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Danilo Kis was one of the most artful and eloquent writers of postwar Europe. Of all his books, Hourglass, the account of the final months in one man's life before he is sent to a concentration camp, is considered to be his masterpiece.
Paperback, 274 pages
Published January 7th 1998 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1972)
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Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: balkan
(A postscripted prologue, for want of capturing the essence of a brilliant novel. While staying in New Belgrade I have assumed a Calvinoean posture, I've become a Baron of the Balcony, reading out on the terrace while life and family matters are debated down below. Last night wine was flowing swiftly and I broached the topic of Danilo Kis, who apparently is no longer regarded at the zenith of Serbian Letters. The fate of Belgrade's Jews was discussed at length, as were their Sephardic origins. T ...more
Oct 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Second read of this. Incredible.

BL: As the story progresses, it’s the father who becomes more and more important.

DK: The father became more idealized because I knew him so little; he was often away. My own father died at Auschwitz in 1944. He became mythical to me when I realized that he had an exceptional destiny and that my own destiny was marked by his Jewishness. I kept my father’s documents during the war with an idea—a very clear idea, I would say n
Jeff Jackson
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hourglass recounts the story of Danilo Kiš's father and his last months before being killed in Hitler's death camps. The book rigorously avoids sentiment and is slow to reveal itself, letting the main character come into focus so gradually that he becomes fully visible only in the last quarter of the text. The narrative continually delays and displaces the charged emotions that run through the story, reminding me of Richard Wright's definition of a successful protest novel as one that denies you ...more
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Veoma je teško reći nešto o piscu kojeg volite, a kamoli o njegovom djelu.

Kiš je izuzetno elokventan pisac pa tako i teška tema i postupak njegovog stvaranja postaje avantura za sebe.
U Peščaniku pratimo E. S. kako se polako raspada kao ličnost. Kako se degradira, ako možemo tako reći. S obzirom na to da je Peščanik kraj porodičnog romana koji čine Rani jadi, Bašta pepeo i Peščanik. E. S. je zapravo Eduard Sam, otac porodice koji se nalazi u vihoru Drugog svjetskog rata, upravo pred odvođenje u l
Steve Kettmann
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is my original review published in the San Francisco Chronicle in September 1990:

This almost annoyingly virtuoso novel, available in English for the first time just weeks before the reunification of Germany, provides a bracing reminder of how mundane the encroachment of terror can be.

Most of the book is written in a numbing question-and-answer format that trivializes anything and everything. Through it, the life of E.S., a 53-year-old Jewish man living in Hungary in 1942, comes across with
Just like the mind considers a silhouette of an hourglass only to suddenly discover at once an image of two human faces opposing each other, so does this book employ many different narrating techniques, telling over an over the same events, in the hope it will reveal in the end something hidden. An "objective", simple, detailed description (which actually manages to touch upon the sad and morbid nature of the story); an interrogation (presumably of the main character) by the police? The Hungaria ...more
Maurizio Manco
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"La solitudine totale è irraggiungibile, perché conseguirla vorrebbe dire conseguire la perfezione, e questa non è altro che l’idea pura o Dio." (p. 38)
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I found this book wonderfully written, and tightly controlled despite the possible unwieldyness that such a fragmented narrative structure can pose for an author. The book switches narrative voice and continually eludes simple narrative progression. We switch between interview, description, first person perspective narrative and epistolary sections. All of these gradually cohere and build up to form a picture of what can be called the 'plot', and though this is very simple it aquires intense res ...more
Víctor Sampayo
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
En primera instancia El reloj de arena (Peščanik, 1972) más que una novela parece un espejismo: como si Danilo Kiš hubiese buscado desarrollar, a través de la fragmentación, un experimento formal agrupando diferentes estilos de narrativa sin un tema subyacente de fondo con el que pudiera sospecharse una unidad. Así tenemos que las secciones “Cuadros de viaje”, “Notas de un loco", "Instrucción” y “Audiencia del testigo” guardan una personalidad singular que el lector tardará varias decenas de pág ...more
Alex Norcross
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
I read this for a Balkan literature class and I know that as soon as you read "Balkan literature class" you either scoffed or laughed. This is an exceptional novel about one man's quest to save his family in time just before the Holocaust. The story is complicated, but beautifully written like Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Paritally inspired by true events, Danilo Kis witnessed the execution of one of his friends and saw his father taken away, never to return. His novel Garden, Ashes tells ...more
Rory Macpherson
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Utterly bewildering for most of the first half, it unfolds into something extraordinary. It's harrowing and bleak and completely compelling, but it will need to be read carefully and slowly, I struggled with that at first, and then, after re-reading the first 30 pages for the 3rd time (all at stupid pace) I gave in and slowed up, luxuriated in the language, which utilizes (at least at first) labyrinthine lists.

This is a genuinely extraordinary book and I am appalled by how difficult it is to get
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've really liked all the Kis I've read, but this book is a cut above. The structure, the theme, the way the whole thing is handled. the man had incredible poise, if that makes any sense, and that is most apparent here. As I've said before, the guy writes mostly about death, childhood, and the Holocaust and I can't recall him ever, even one time, being corny or trite or predictable.
It appears that Danilo Kis was fond of the writings of Bruno Schulz, and this is evident for me from the way he piles detail upon detail to produce an almost hallucinatory effect on the reader. The interrogation sessions were particularly gripping as it is not hard to see yourself in the shoes of the one being interrogated.

Another introduction to thank Susan Sontag for!
Eva Derzic
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I felt like I was reading a less polished version of Nabokov as I worked my way through this. It's beautifully written. The prose is delicate and the metaphors just sort of blossom in among themselves. That said, it's a very glum story. Nothing written in Eastern Europe and set during the Holocaust ever ends well.
Brent Legault
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
Far too catechismical for my liking. It's as if Kis looked at Ulysses' penultimate chapter and thought "That would be great for half a book." And then there was the insufferable boredom of both subject and style...
May 08, 2013 rated it liked it
at least a 3.5, another one of those books that you have to get more than half way through to get into it. There is a plot but it is fleeting, but the descriptions are quite wonderful
Dec 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful Central European novel about a mad time
Mills College Library
Fiction K614h 1997
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Danilo Kiš was born in Subotica, Danube Banovina, Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the son of Eduard Kiš (Kis Ede), a Hungarian Jewish railway inspector, and Milica Kiš (born Dragićević) from Cetinje, Montenegro. During the Second World War, he lost his father and several other family members, who died in various Nazi camps. His mother took him and his older sister Danica to Hungary for the duration of the ...more
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Other Books in the Series

Family Cycle Trilogy (3 books)
  • Garden, Ashes
  • Rani jadi

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“Thanks to suffering and madness, I have had a finer, richer life than any of you, and I wish to go to my death with dignity, as befits the great moment after which all dignity and majesty cease. Let my body be my ark and my death a long floating on the waves of eternity. A nothing amid nothingness. What defense have I against nothingness but this ark in which I have tried to gather everything that was dear to me, people, birds, animals, and plants, everything that I carry in my eye and in my heart, in the triple-decked ark of my body and soul. Like the pharaohs in the majestic peace of their tombs, I wanted to have all those things with me in death, I wanted everything to be as it was before; I wanted the birds to sing for me forever, I wanted to exchange Charon's bark for another, less desolate and less empty; I wanted to ennoble eternity's unconscionable void with the bitter herbs that spring from the heart of man, to ennoble the soundless emptiness of eternity with the cry of the cuckoo and the song of the lark. All I have done is to develop that bitter poetic metaphor, carry it with passionate logic to its ultimate consequence, which transforms sleep into waking (and the converse); lucidity into madness (and the converse); life into death, as though there were no borderline, and the converse; death into eternity, as if they were not one and the same thing. Thus my egoism is only the egoism of human existence, the egoism of life, counterweight to the egoism of death, and, appearances to the contrary, my consciousness resists nothingness with an egoism that has no equal, resists the outrage of death with the passionate metaphor of the wish to reunite the few people and the bit of love that made up my life. I have wanted and still want to depart this life with specimens of people, flora and fauna, to lodge them all in my heart as in an ark, to shut them up behind my eyelids when they close for the last time. I wanted to smuggle this pure abstraction into nothingness, to sneak it across the threshold of that other abstraction, so crushing in its immensity: the threshold of nothingness. I have therefore tried to condense this abstraction, to condense it by force of will, faith, intelligence, madness, and love (self-love), to condense it so drastically that its specific weight will be such as to life it like a balloon and carry it beyond the reach of darkness and oblivion. If nothing else survives, perhaps my material herbarium or my notes or my letters will live on, and what are they but condensed, materialized idea; materialized life: a paltry, pathetic human victory over immense, eternal, divine nothingness. Or perhaps--if all else is drowned in the great flood--my madness and my dream will remain like a northern light and a distant echo. Perhaps someone will see that light or hear that distant echo, the shadow of a sound that was once, and will grasp the meaning of that light, that echo. Perhaps it will be my son who will someday publish my notes and my herbarium of Pannonian plants (unfinished and incomplete, like all things human). But anything that survives death is a paltry, pathetic victory over the eternity of nothingness--a proof of man's greatness and Yahweh's mercy. Non omnis moriar.” 4 likes
“The flickering shadows dissolve the outlines of things and break up the surfaces of the cube, the walls and ceiling move to and fro to the rhythm of the jagged flame, which by turns flares up and dies down as though about to go out. The yellow clay at the bottom of the cube rises like the floorboards of a sinking boat, then falls back into the darkness, as though flooded with muddy water. The whole room trembles, expands, contracts, moves a few centimeters to the right or left, up or down, all the while keeping its cubical shape. Horizontals and verticals intersect at several points, all in vague confusion, but governed by some higher law, maintaining an equilibrium that prevents the walls from collapsing and the ceiling from tilting or falling. This equilibrium is due no doubt to the regular movement of the crossbeams, for they, too, seem to glide from right to left, up and down, along with their shadows, without friction or effort, as lightly as over water. The waves of the night dash against the sides of the roomboat. Gusts of wind blow soft flakes and sharp icy crystals by turns against the windowpane. The square, embrasure-like window is stuffed with a disemboweled pillow; bits of cloth stick out and dangle like amorphous plants or creepers. It is hard to say whether they are trembling under the impact of the wind blowing through the cracks, or whether it is only their shadow that sways to the rhythm of the jagged flame. ” 4 likes
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