Introduction by Aleksandar Hemon
Translated by William J. Hannaher
Garden, Ashes is the remarkable account of Andi Scham's childhood during World War II, as his Jewish family traverses Eastern Europe to escape persecution. As the family moves from house to house, the novel focuses on Andi's relationship with his father; he recounts the endless hours his father poured into the creation of his all-inclusive third edition of the Bus, Ship, Rail, and Air Travel Guide, to the bizarre sermons he delivered to his befuddled family, to his eventual disappearance and assumed death at Auschwitz.
Despite the apocalyptic events fueling this family's story, Kis's writing emphasizes the specific details of life during this period, constructing a personal account of a future artist growing up under the shadow of the Nazis and in a world capable of containing a person as unique as his father.
Nb of pages 170 p.
Publication Date 01 October 2003
Nb of pages 170
Dimensions 5.5 x 8 in.
List Price $12.95
Late in the morning on summer days, my mother would come into the room softly, carrying that tray of hers. The tray was beginning to lose its thin nickelized glaze. Along the edges where its level surface bent upward slightly to form a raised rim, traces of its former splendor were still present in flaky patches of nickel that looked like tin foil pressed out under the fingernails. The narrow, flat rim ended in an oval trough that bent downward and was banged in and misshapen. Tiny decorative protuberances – a whole chain of little metallic grapes – had been impressed on the upper edge of the rim. Anyone holding the tray (usually my mother) was bound to feel at least three or four of these semicylindrical protuberances, like Braille letters, under the flesh of the thumb. Right there, around those grapes, ringlike layers of grease had collected, barely visible, like shadows cast by little cupolas. These small rings, the color of dirt under fingernails were the remnants of coffee grounds, cod-liver oil, honey sherbet. Thin crescents on the smooth, shiny surface of the tray showed where glasses had just been removed. Without opening my eyes, I knew from the crystal tinkling of teaspoons against glasses that my mother had set down the tray for a moment and was moving toward the window, the picture of determination, to push the dark curtain aside. Then the room would come aglow in the dazzling light of the morning, and I would shut my eyes tightly as the spectrum alternated from yellow to blue to red. On her tray, with her jar of honey and her bottle of cod-liver oil, my mother carried to us the amber hues of sunny days, thick concentrates full of intoxicating aromas. The little jars and glasses were just samples, specimens of the new lands at which the foolish barge of our days would be putting ashore on those summer mornings. Fresh water glistened in the glass, and we would drink it down expertly, in tiny sips, clucking like experienced tasters. We would sometimes express dissatisfaction by grimacing and coughing: the water was tasteless, greasy like rainwater, and full of autumnal sediment, while the honey had lost its color and turned thick and turbid, showing the first signs of crystallization. On rainy days, cloudy and gloomy, our fingerprints would stay on the teaspoon handle. Then, sad and disappointed, hating to get up, we would back under the covers to sleep through a day that had started out badly.
In Kis's case . . . it is the consistent quality of the local prose that counts. It is how, sentence by sentence, the song is built, and immeasurable meanings meant. It is the rich regalia of his rhetoric that leads us to acknowledge his authority. On his page, trappings are not trappings, but sovereignty itself.
Let us not mince words here: Danilo Kis's Garden, Ashes is an unmitigated masterpiece, surely not just one of the best books about the Holocaust, but one of the greatest books of the past century. -Aleksandar Hemon
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Genres : Fiction : Europe : Balkan
Genres : Fiction : Historical Fiction : World War II and Holocaust
Genres : Fiction : Classics and Modernism
Countries : Serbia