Danilo Kiš and the Hungarian Holocaust: The Early Novel Psalm 44

John K. Cox

Abstract


Danilo Kiš's little known second novel, Psalm 44 (1962) is his first major prose work about the Holocaust. This novel was published for the first time in Hungarian translation in 1966 and English translation in 2012. The novel is quite different from Kiš's later works on the Holocaust, the autobiographical trilogy comprising Early Sorrows, Garden, Ashes, and Hourglass. The first difference is in setting. In Psalm 44, a number of important flashbacks take place in Újvidék/Novi Sad, the region of northern Serbia (then Yugoslavia) under Hungarian occupation after 1941; much of the rest of the book takes place in Auschwitz and associated camps in Poland. The amount of Hungarian material is significant, but the inclusion of so much material from Auschwitz is not found elsewhere in Kiš 's oeuvre. The second difference is in the author's graphic portrayal of gruesome atrocities. For the literary historian, Psalm 44 is an important milestone in the development of Kiš 's thematic and stylistic inventory. For other historians, the novel functions in part as a microhistory of the Újvidék massacres (the "Cold Days") of early 1942. Kiš 's quest to find his own voice to attempt to convey the tragedy of the Holocaust—as important for the entire human family and the very region of Central Europe as it was for his own family—finds a parallel expression in the confusion, exhaustion, and skepticism of the characters in this novel.

Keywords


Hungary, Holocaust, Hungarian-Serbian relations, Danilo Kiš, Psalm 44, Vajdaság, Vojvodina, Újvidék, Novi Sad, Cold Days

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5195/ahea.2012.73

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