In 1965, when it was first published, Garden, Ashes announced the arrival of a young and unmistakable talent in Serbian and Yugoslav literature, Danilo Ki. Ki’s two previous novels, Mansarda and Psalam 44 (both published in 1962), were only harbingers of his mature achievements. With Garden, Ashes, Ki stepped to the front of a promising new generation of writers, and he has remained there ever since.
Ki’s stature among his contemporaries can be attributed in part to his surprising maturity in matters of style. Garden, Ashes is written in both a realistic and a somewhat impressionistic style, imbued with poetry all the more effective because of its unassuming gentleness. Another striking feature of his style is the richness of his vocabulary, which is a well-balanced mixture of Serbian and international expressions normally shunned by most writers. In this respect, Ki is provocatively modern. Modern, also, is a certain experimentation in style, such as his inclusion of a drawing of a Singer sewing machine and his avoidance of straight plot; in fact, the novel has hardly any distinct plot or even a chronological sequence of events. Even though the novel is basically realistic, it requires the reader’s efforts to supply the missing links. The abundance of rich metaphors and images, coupled with cultural and historical allusions, adds to the artistic quality of Garden, Ashes, making it one of the best novels in the second half of the twentieth century.