Serbian Classics Press

publishing classic Serbian literature

Mansarda

by Danilo Kiš
Translated by John K. Cox

Mansarda is the first novel by the renowned Serbian author Danilo Kiš (1935–1989). Written in 1960, published in 1962, and set in contemporary Belgrade, Mansarda explores the relationship of a young man, known only as Orpheus, to the art of writing; it also tracks the personal relationships among a colorful cast of characters with nicknames such as Eurydice, Mary Magdalene, Tam-Tam, and Billy Wise Ass. Rich references to music, painting, philosophy, and gastronomy, as well as literature, this bohemian Bildungsroman provides important perspectives on the evolution of Kiš as a writer. It is a laboratory of techniques and the anvil of an artistic ethos for Kiš. In other words, as a work of art, Mansarda is at once a depiction of life in bohemian Belgrade, a register of stylistic devices and themes that would recur throughout Kiš’ oeuvre, and an account of one young man’s quest to work out one’s artistic ethos and approach to representation by balancing art, life, and text. These three aspects of Mansarda add up to an admirable first novel, indeed.
-- John K. Cox, Translator, Author of The History of Serbia (2002) and Slovenia: Evolving Loyalties (2005)

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"That's bound be be some kind of neo-realism," he said. "Dirty, slobbery children, and laundry strung up in the narrow gaps between the buildings of some suburb, and dockside dives, shit-faced railroad switchmen, hookers...."
"There is some of that in it,” I responded. “But it remains a horribly self-centered book...." (Mansarda, p. 78)

Mansarda is Danilo Kiš' first novel in post-WWII socialist Yugoslavia, where he was relatively free to experiment with European literary forms and trends. Yet, Mansarda is the embryo of Kiš' later work, which is largely concerned with the question of engagé literature, which he would fully develop in his later essays in response to a conflict with the Yugoslav literary establishment of the late 1970s. Although regularly interpreted as a staunch critic of Communist totalitarianism, Kiš’ universal appeal lies in the fact that his criticism is directed at any system of values that silences freedom of expression as well as any literature that is subservient to and acts as justification for politics. Kiš, who defends the independence of literature, is as relevant today as he was a half century ago.
-- Tatjana Aleksić, Editor of Mythistory and Narratives of the Nation in the Balkans (2007)