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The Encyclopedia of the Dead

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,246 ratings  ·  125 reviews
An entrancing, otherworldly collection of short stories from one of Europe's most accomplished 20th century writers, new to Penguin Modern Classics
A counter-prophet attempts the impossible to prove his power; a girl sees the hideous fate of her sisters and father in a mirror bought from a gypsy; the death of a prostitute causes an unanticipated uprising; and the lives of e
Paperback, 201 pages
Published January 7th 1998 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1983)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  2,246 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Amalia Gavea
‘’When a lie repeats for a long time, people begin to believe.’’

This collection is an ode to the values of Literature. An opportunity to contemplate, to feel, to reflect. A beautiful, haunting symphony composed of religion, philosophy, folklore, living History. A work that places the human being, naked and feeble as we are, at the heart of every story. Our fears, our fickleness, our virtues and vices, our ability to create only to destroy. Our desire to rebuild and then tear down everything an
Glenn Russell

Internationally acclaimed Serbian author Danilo Kiš and his family lived through some of the harshest and nightmarish years of the twentieth century. His best-known books are the novel Hourglass and two collections of short stories: A Tomb for Boris Davidovich and the collection under review. All nine tales in The Encyclopedia of the Dead are stunning, highly literary and deeply moving. But rather than offer observations of a general nature, I'll focus on the title piece since my heart softened
Vit Babenco
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There is truth and there is faith and they don’t mix – like oil and water…
When a lie is repeated long enough, people start believing it. Because people need faith.

The Encyclopedia of the Dead is an obvious attempt to follow in Jorge Luis Borges’ footsteps, and although the stories are good and mostly inventive they lie on the other plane.
Simon Magus is a gnostic tale with an apparent sympathy for the advocates of Gnosticism. Last Respects is a flowery fable of a cocotte’s interment. The Encyclop
Paul Bryant
May 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
If the blurb had said "Overwritten, pompous sub-Borgesian spooky-ookums waffle with very few discernable points" then I would not have bothered to read this, but I have found out that a lot of the time blurbs do not tell the truth. Somebody should do something about that.
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

--Simon Magus
--Last Respects
--The Encyclopedia of the Dead
--The Legend of the Sleepers
--The Mirror of the Unknown
--The Story of the Master and the Disciple
--Pro Patria Mori
--The Book of Kings and Fools
--Red Stamps with Lenin's Head

Lee Klein
Garden, Ashes is a major favorite (one of the few novels I've re-read more than twice) but others I've tried (A Tomb For Boris Davidovich, Hourglass) haven't really done it for me. I had a similarly split reaction with this one. Loved the first few stories but midway through the one about the sleepers I found myself literally falling asleep and wasn't able to enter the last few. Tried a couple times but kept zoning out -- couldn't concentrate. I might return to the last three stories later on wh ...more
MJ Nicholls
A robust panoply of erudite stories, each plump with historical/ religious allusions told with a shading of mischief. A Borgesian bouillabaisse.
Paul Fulcher
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
History is written by the victors. Legends are woven by the people. Writers fantasize. Only death is certain.

A vitally important book of short stories that deserves to be ranked alongside Borges finest, translated by Michael Henry Heim, and with an illuminating postscript by the author Danilo Kiš himself.

This review from Nick Lezard (Guardian - bring him back!) sums it up well:

and Wikipedia (sorry!) has a good overview of the stories
Jennifer (JC-S)
Sep 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I’ve not previously read Mr Kis’s work and I was not sure what to expect. I read this collection in translation (by Michael Henry Heim). This was the first book I could obtain, and I was totally swept up in the beauty of the prose from beginning to end. This collection of nine stories touches on a number of facets of life: relationships, encounters and experiences. Each is unique. Each illustrates a different aspect of existence, including questioning the notion of divine order.

‘Everything a liv
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
November 1, 2012 All Saints' Day. Death looks very much like the ending of a book. It is inevitable, inescapable, final, often unpredictable yet necessary and common to all. Each human life that ends is like a book that has been read, and was loved, and is kept in at least one other person's memory. For a book, its author or its first reader; for a person, his/her mother or someone who had loved him/her most.

All Saints' Day is a celebration and commemoration of sequels, or the possibility thereo
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If for whatever reason you haven't read anything by Danilo Kis yet, I'm gonna go ahead and say "Do so as soon as possible." Jewish guy from what was Yugoslavia at the time, wrote in Serbo-Croatian, and as good as anybody you'd care to name. Really just top shelf. You can start anywhere because all the books are good. This is stories, loosely linked by the theme of death. Kis's three big topics are death, childhood, and the Holocaust, and yeahyeah, heavy stuff, and generally pretty depressing but ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
"Only death is certain" seems to be the dominant message of the nine short stories in this collection by Yugoslov writer, Danilo Kis. My first time to read a work by him and I am now craving for more.

Although the stories are about death and dying, the book is neither terrifying nor nightmarish. So, if you are looking to be scared like when you read a Stephen King or a Clive Barker, this book is not for you. This book borders on being philosophical about highly inventive scenes that only gifted a
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing short collection of stories and fables. This was a book I picked up just because of the title, though the Penguin Modern Classics series generally guarantees quality. The title story is reminiscent of and probably influenced by Borges, though the dream in question, of a sect that creates an encyclopedia documenting the lives of ordinary people in minute detail, was based on a real dream related by Kis's wife. Some of the other stories are re-tellings and fictionalisations of histor ...more
Sep 26, 2017 added it
History is written by the victors. Legends are woven by the people. Writers fantasize. Only death is certain."
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
He reminds me so much of Borges, but with a south slavic twist.
Dec 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I love Borges and after I exhausted his books, I went looking for other authors who were influenced by him. Danilo Kis came up near the top of the list, so I picked up "Encyclopedia of The Dead", his book of short stories. And indeed, Kis' subjects are Borgesian: gnostic heretics, infinite encyclopedias, men condemned by dictators, Koranic legends, reviews of imaginary books. In many ways, Kis is a better writer than Borges— the stories have the mournful lyricism of Milan Kundera at his best. Bu ...more
Jan 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a fan of Borges, and much of my MA dissertation focused on the disintegration of the Yugoslav state in the midst of conflicting nationalist rhetoric; imagine my delight when I discovered Kiš.

Sadly, great expectations are usually dashed, and I've just put this volume down feeling a little cold. It's hit and miss - my favourite stories were Simon Magus, the Encyclopedia of the Dead and the Mirror of the Unknown. At best though, these are sub-Borges, mostly lacking Jorge Luis' wit and charm th
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-two-times
This book, like Mahler's Symphony no. 9, has a central theme of the dead. And, also like Mahler's Symphony, raises many questions, but leave to the reader(listener) to find the answers for himself, since there is no unique and unified approach on solving the problem of death and its overcoming. In this precious book we see nine ways of trying to overcome the death, which are told through nine stories. They raise many unpleasant questions, and the basic one is: Can a human being achieve the immor ...more
I had high hopes for this collection of stories I've been holding onto for a few years now. Truthfully, I made it through three-quarters of the collection and found myself left with a sense of unemotional, flavorless philosophizing. That's not to say that philosophical writing doesn't have it's place, but I read for emotional resonance, so unless the intellectual lifting is pretty damn impressive, I'm probably going to get bored, which I did. The title story and "The Mirror of the Unknown" were ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
As with any collection of separate pieces of work, it is difficult to give a single rating to summarise the whole book. However, I think on average the stories average 4 stars.
My favourite short story was the titular 'Encyclopedia of the Dead', which I would definitely give 5 stars to. I also enjoyed the introduction included in the Penguin edition of the book. After completing each short story I would read the corresponding paragraph in the introduction.
I had never heard of this book or its aut
Gordan Karlic
Still not sure should I give 2 or 3 but I am in a good mood so will go for 3.
I like the start (first story by far best one) but after 3 or 4 it is just boring as f.
Spent enough time with this book, nothing else needs to be said.
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: balkans, stories
Kiš follows a line of culturally cosmopolitan authors, epitomised in the twentieth century by Borges - or later Yourcenar or Bolaño - and going back to Goethe whose West-eastern Divan he planned to quote ironically in this Encyclopedia.
The frames for his stories are borrowed from fictional as well as historical sources - the Bible, the Quran, some minor news items or the greatest tragedies in European history. Events take place from the early years after Christ’s death to the post-war twentieth
Stephen Curran
Some 'pocket-sized novels' on the theme of death.

1. Simon Magus.

Based on an gnostic tale from The Acts of Peter. A prophet eruditely denounces the Christian God and is confronted by Peter and the apostles. His attempts at performing miracles (levitation and being buried alive: the story is told twice) both end in a gruesome death, which his companion takes as proof that the prophet was right: God is a tyrant. It's a story that manages to be funny yet deadly serious; allegorical yet ambiguous.

Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had high hopes for this collection of short stories. The cover blurb states that "this is one of the finest fantastic collections since Borges's 'Ficciones'". In some respects, I can see how this applies - the stories often blur fact and fiction, contain conundrums, and are full of semi-legitimate literary references which cross-reference each other within each story. However, they lack the playfulness that I find in Borges. This means - to be blunt - many of them are just boring: "The Book Of ...more
Jared Colley
May 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Borges ans such
Shelves: fiction
Danilo Kis is a Yugoslavian writer; I read this collection of stories for a class a couple years ago and was thoroughly impressed. Imagine Borges as an Eastern European writer. The self-conscious, meta-fictional style is here, but the stories are resourcing a completely different historical experience - namely one of Eastern Europe in the tumultuous 20th century. This is a great reading experience; I enthusiastically recommend it.
Rikki Chadwick
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting book and an interesting fact that Daniel said that he knew about writing a book like this will not go unpunished.
Dec 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Due for a reread and a review. A masterpiece, no doubt. Kiš the Mask!
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A certain kind of writing that faces inquisitively in the direction of history (and grapples w/ the texts it has produced) is often said to be engaged in sleuthing. This is a sleuthing that diverges from the model of the detective novel, but also in some ways replicates its baseline tactics. Borges and Umberto Eco would be foremost practitioners of this kind historico-archival sleuthing. W/ THE ENYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD (only the second of his books I have read) Kiš is engaged in the same kind of ...more
Sophy H
2.5 stars at best!

I think maybe its me, but I'm completely missing the hype of Danilo Kis. I didn't rate these short stories at all. They were all over the place, ragged, erratic, repetitive and eventually rather annoying!

I was expecting amazing feats of literary accomplishment but instead I found limp, nonsensical writing that I then wondered, had the essence of the stories been lost in translation? Who is to say?

The only worthy one of note was The Mirror of the Unknown, a slightly Tales of t
Kis's final book, slightly more inscrutable at times than A tomb for Boris Davidovich, but equally brilliant overall. The title story is so beautiful and melancholic it gave me goosebumps, the images were so vivid I had to stop sometimes just to absorb the world he was conjuring up in a few words. After having read only two of his short story collections, I would put him in a similar category to Ivo Andric and Mesa Selimovic as one of the greatest south slavic writers, although I think he wrote ...more
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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
“Istoriju pišu pobednici. Predanja ispreda puk. Književnici fantaziraju. Izvesna je samo smrt.” 27 likes
“Mislila sam, kao što ljudi u teškim nevoljama misle, da će mi promena mesta pomoći da zaboravim svoj bol, kao da svoju nesreću ne nosimo U sebi.” 27 likes
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