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This report is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

A Piano and a Dead Horse (translated by Mark Thompson)
Introduced by Mark Thompson
Danilo Kiš
The cultural concept of 'Central Europe' stirred intense interest in the mid-1980s. The core countries in this virtual zone were Poland, Hungary, and the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Its champions included the Lithuanian-born Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, Hungarian novelist György Konrád, and Václav Havel in Prague. But it had no ministries, banners, officials or borders. Many books, but no slogans. Many sympathisers, and one overarching foe: the Soviet Union, which had absorbed these lands after 1945, crushed periodic revolts and now, many feared, threatened to obliterate its overlapping identities and traditions altogether. The key expression of this fear was a superb polemic by Milan Kundera, called 'The Tragedy of Central Europe' (1984): a manifesto for that part of Europe 'situated geographically in the centre, culturally in the West and politically in the East'.

Danilo Kiš (1935-89) is the only Yugoslav named in Kundera's polemic. Hungarian Jewish and Montenegrin Eastern Orthodox by parentage, Yugoslav by citizenship, and liberal cosmopolitan by conviction, Kiš had never been bound by the literary traditions of his native land. After childhood saturation in folk poetry, his formative influences - except for the Croatian Miroslav Krleža - were French and Russian. In the late Seventies, he became deeply disaffected by the literary milieu in Belgrade, where he had lived since 1954. He moved to Paris in 1979, to eke out a living as a university lector before Bernard-Henri Lévy fixed him up with a generous contract at the publisher Grasset.

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