A Tomb for Boris Davidovich Characters

Danilo Kiš

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Boris Davidovich

Boris Davidovich (dah-VIH-doh-vihch), a Jew and a Russian revolutionary. Boris has been imbued with a revolutionary zeal from his early youth, fighting against the czarist regime and for the Bolsheviks. As a result, a portrait of a classical revolutionary emerges: brave, resolute, bold, cool, resourceful, loyal to the cause, and blind to questioning of his ideology. Although it is not quite clear whether he joins the revolution out of a sense of justice or in quest of action or adventure, he participates in it without any reservations, which leads to a firmness of character that remains throughout his life. When he falls out of grace and is tortured and threatened with death, he refuses to sign a confession that would implicate others; instead, he prefers to be shot as a traitor rather than to be hanged as a common thief. Through his death in a labor camp during an escape attempt, he epitomizes a revolutionary who dies unjustly at the hands of his comrades. He also resembles the numerous revolutionaries throughout the world who, convinced of the rightness of their cause, are nevertheless stymied in their idealistic expectations and sacrificed to the exigencies of the revolution.

A. L. Chelyustnikov

A. L. Chelyustnikov (cheh-LYEWST-nih-kov), a Russian revolutionary, another example of a loyal servant of the revolution, yet for entirely different reasons. A boaster and a womanizer, expert at playing cards, he seems to have become a revolutionary out of opportunism or inertia. He is a typical organization man, even to the point of agreeing to be a fall guy to serve the cause. It is not surprising that he survives the ups and downs of the revolutionary struggle, even though he is not without scars or close calls.


Fedukin (feh-DUH-kihn), a secret police investigator. A revolutionary of yet another sort, Fedukin serves the revolution and the state out of a need to do evil and hurt people to satisfy his sadistic impulses. A tall, pockmarked, and unbending interrogator, of modest education but of some literary talent, he derives the greatest pleasure when he investigates and tortures his former comrades, guilty or innocent. His motto is, “Even a stone would talk if you broke its teeth,” referring to those victims who have passed through his hands. He believes that it is better to destroy one person’s truth than to...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The main character of the novel is Boris Davidovich, a Jew and a revolutionary from the days of his early manhood. He presents a picture of the classical revolutionary: brave, resolute, bold, cool, resourceful, loyal to the cause, and blind to questioning of his ideology. It is not quite clear whether he joins the revolutionary struggle out of a sense of justice or in quest of action or adventure, but it does not matter; once he decides to participate he does so with resolution. This steadfastness may explain why Davidovich persistently resists the efforts of Fedukin to break him during the endless hours of interrogation and torture. It is symptomatic of Davidovich’s character that, once it is clear that he will die, he wants to die as an honorable man who has fought tenaciously for his cause rather than as a common thief. In this sense, he epitomizes the countless revolutionaries throughout the world who are convinced they are fighting for the right cause but are stymied in their efforts. Be that as it may, Davidovich is a classic example of a fighter who pays the ultimate price unjustly.

Karl Taube is another example of a revolutionary who pays this price, but in a somewhat different way. An intellectual who joins the struggle out of a clear, rational decision to help better the world, he becomes a victim of the whims of blind fate. He too is senselessly sacrificed by the leadership, for if they had not sent him to prison for no apparent reason, he...

(The entire section is 565 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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Vitanovic, Slobodan. “Thematic Unity in Danilo Ki’s Literary Works,” in Relations. Nos. 9/10 (1979), pp. 66-69.

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Zimmerman, Zora Devrnja. Review in World Literature Today. LIII (Autumn, 1979), p. 713.