Hourglass, by Danilo Kis, is quite the extraordinary book, especially with its location within borders of Yugoslavia and Hungary.
Within the territory, much comes to light through Kis’ brilliant writing. The overlying story line revolves around a man known as E.S., who is a railway clerk. That fact, in itself, is ironic. He is stuck in time, so to speak, with his family members. Discord abounds over property, petty squabbles, and through it all he sets out to right wrongs, often not succeeding. In his last effort of writing a letter of explanation and amends, the story line is transported full force.
The reader is brought out of any pretenses he/she might have had about the brutality of the constant detentions, batterings and questionings by the police. Those questions and responses, in themselves, are indicative of the forces at hand, and how a captive tries to survive through their answers given to the authorities. The descriptions are vivid and horrifying. Throughout all of E.S.’s trials and brutalities, we see him disintegrate into madness in order to cope with the events occurring, not only to him, but within his environment, as Jews are in a constant flux of terrorist happenings.
From forced slave labor under the most adverse of conditions, to beatings and other forms of verbal and physical antisemitism, the darkness persists, never letting up, until E.S. ends up in a state of madness, madness within the extreme madness of others around him. E.s.’s writing is a form of escape, and the reader can see that he flounders between sanity and insanity within his writing.
Kis’ word imagery is often horrific and demonstrates the atrocities that the Jews faced in 1942. Within the horrors, he does insert bits of humor, comic relief of sorts, in order to allow the reader to breathe, again. That is the brilliance and magnitude of his creative edge. What is seen as a story of one man and his family dynamics and survival, turns into a view of Jews, genocide, war, and deportation.
I found Hourglass to be an extremely dark read, a novel that delves into the mind of a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. Kis inserts coping skills that turn to madness on the part of the one who is perpetrated. Yet, within the madness is a clear and concise truth of what life was like prewar, and what the circumstances of war atrociously conveyed on the lives of Jews.