Ivo Andrić (1892 - 1975), a Serbian-Croatian novelist, short story writer, and Nobel Prize winner from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ivan Andrić (Ivo is diminutive of Ivan) was born on October 9th, 1892 near Travnik, Bosnia (then part of Austria-Hungary) to a Catholic family of Bosnian Croats. He started his education in Sarajevo's Gymnasium and continued studies at the universities in Krakow, Vienna, and Graz. Because of his political activities, Andrić was interned by the Austrian government during World War I in the Doboj Austrian detention camp alongside with civilian Serbs and pro-Serb south Slavs.
Under the newly formed Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Andrić held a number of diplomatic posts, including that of ambassador to Germany. His ambassadorship ended in 1941, and during World War II Andrić lived in Belgrade.
The post-war decade was his most productive period. Following the death of his wife in 1968, he slowly reduced his activities. As the time went by, he became increasingly ill and eventually died on March 13th, 1975.
The material for his works was mainly drawn from the history, folklore and culture of his native Bosnia. Andrić wrote in Croatian and, dominantly, in Serbian, while officially supported the notion of one Serbo-Croatian language, just like many of his contemporaries, both Croat and Serb. Many of his works being translated into English, the best known are the following:
- The Bridge on the Drina (Na Drini ćuprija, 1945; trans. 1959)
- The Woman from Sarajevo (Gospođica, 1945; trans. 1965)
- The Vizier's Elephant (Priča o vezirovom slonu, 1948; trans. 1962)
The first earned him the Nobel Prize for literature
Some of his other popular works include:
- The Journey of Alija Đerzelez (Put Alije Đerzeleza, 1920)
- Bosnian Chronicle (Travnička hronika, 1945)
- The Damned Yard (Prokleta avlija, 1954)
- Omer-Pasha Latas (Omerpaša Latas, released posthumously in 1977)
Andrić belongs to those writers that are hard to classify: he was both Serbian and Croatian writer, wrote in Serbian
(predominantly) and Croatian
(earlier works of poetry and novellas, ca. 30 % of his opus); a believer of Yugoslav unity and quasi-racial Slavic nationalism before WWI
and royal Yugoslavia's ambassador to Nazi
Germany. His political career, combined with extraliterary factors, contributed to the controversy that still surrounds his work. However, a fair assessment of his work could not overlook the following facts and evaluations:
- Andrić is at his best in short stories, novellas and essayist meditative prose. Although his four novels (one of them unfinished) are good examples of traditional realist fiction, they wouldn't suffice to ensure him the position of a major European writer. On the other hand, brilliant aphorisms and meditations, collected in his early poetic prose ("Nemiri"/"Anxieties") and, partcularly, postumously published "Znakovi pored puta"/"Signs near the travel-road" are great examples of a melancholy consciousness contemplating the universals in human condition-not unlike Andrić's chief influence Kierkegaard. His best short stories and novellas are located in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina and frequently center on collisions between three main Bosnia's nations: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. The latter are in his fiction almost exclusively referred to as "Turks". Although social and denominational tensions are the scene for the majority of stories, Andrić's shorter fictions cannot be reduced to a sort of regional chronicle: rooted frequently in rather prosaic and pedestrian Bosnian Franciscan chronicles, they are expressions of a vision of life, because for Andrić, as for other great regionalist authors like Hardy or Hawthorne, the regional irradiates the universal.
- yet, with the collapse of Yugoslavia other, until then suppressed, dubieties about Andrić's work began to pop up. The commonest charge is as follows: Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims are in Andrić's work portrayed stereotypically and in a hostile and condescending manner. Some circles of Bosnian Muslim intelligentsia had raised these accusations to ludicrous extremes, turning Andrić into a Greater Serbian propagandist and pamphleteer. Suffice to say- Andrić was primarily a fiction writer and such generalizations are essentially meaningless. But, they do, to a degree, invalidate Andrić's stature as a writer. Shallow stereotypes of Bosnian Muslims who are depicted as borderline psychotic oversensual "Orientals" abound even in his best fiction- which has proven to be detrimental in the re-assessment of his literary stature at the end of the 20th century.
- other, more amusing post-Yugoslav literary event is Andrić's posthumous placement: since the project of Yugoslav literature collapsed (just like Czechoslovak or Soviet "literatures"), a squabble about "who Andrić belongs to ?" only began. Serbian culture and tradition have the strongest claim: Andrić considered himself a Serb for the most of his adult life, the majority of his works were written in Serbian language and he was, as far as former Yugoslav area is concerned, influenced decisevely by such Serbian cultural icons like Vuk Karadzic and Petar Petrović Njegoš, who both figured in a few Andrić's essays. Croatian curricula at high schools and universities have put Andrić among other writers in Croatian literature departments and programs: the arguments seem to be mostly "genetic" (Andrić was of Croatian origin and in young adulthood declared himself a Croat-for instance, he participated in a book "Hrvatska mlada lirika"/"Croatian young poetry", 1914); also, great part of his best earlier work was written in Croatian language (as different from Serbian Ijekavian language of such writers like Petar Kočić or Aleksa Šantić) and Andrić didn't alter his early works in later editions; and, the role of "chorus" or moral conscience, ie. authorial voice in the major part of his work are Bosnian Croat Franciscans. Be as it may, Andrić's work is now in the official curricula of Croat and Serb literature programs, and, grudgingly, in that of Bosnian Muslims. Since aesthetic sensibilities have significantly altered in past decades, a traditionalist storyteller like Andrić is simultaneously politically a controversial figure and literary a somewhat marginal presence: Croats have never considered him an equal to Miroslav Krleza, while Serbs affirm aesthetic primacy of Miloš Crnjanski and Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims of Mehmed Selimović- a Muslim writer who, like Croat Andrić, "opted" for Serbdom during the major part of his life. Where will this literary-political pendulum finally stop, it is too early to predict.
- "If people would know how little brain is ruling the world, they would die of fear."