‘The Encyclopaedia of the Dead’ by Danilo Kiš

Strangely, I read Danilo Kiš before I ever read Borges. I have no defence. Kiš, like his literary hero, is a masterful archivist of experiences. The story opens with a reference to the Vasa warship, itself a repository of many lives and objects lived, and subsequently preserved. Kiš was a remarkable stylist and literary critic and deplored identity-literature as he felt it made the single story somehow acceptable to the reader. Kiš shows us that there’s more than one way to present and re-present a life; there’s a curriculum vitae or a biography, but there’s also the wine stain we leave on a carpet or the fact that we may clandestinely listen to Drake on repeat. And for a little while, we are the containers for these things. They are in us because wherever we go, we ‘bear our grief within ourselves’.

Collected in Encyclopaedia of the Dead, FSG, 1997, translated by Michael Henry Heim, republished by Penguin Modern Classics, 2015, translated by Mark Thompson. Can be read online here