where to start with his literature – the Calvert Journal
“Writing has a certain similarity to the development of an image on a photographic plate. The photo is taken in the sun, and only with the help of sunlight, but to develop it requires complete darkness. (Conversations with Goya. Bridges. Signs.)
Ivo Andrić was born in 1892 to a Croatian Catholic family in Bosnia, at the time still under Austro-Hungarian rule. His father died when Andrić was still a toddler, so his mother sent him to live with an aunt and uncle in Višegrad, a town on the Drina whose bridge inspired a lifetime of writing.
As a young man, Andrić became a member of several political youth groups and befriended Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in 1914 sparked the spark of the First World War. Andrić’s acquaintance with Princip guaranteed his arrest, and he spent most of the war in prison, under house arrest or under the rather relaxed supervision of the local Franciscan friars. Suffering from tuberculosis and too described as a “political threat” to be written, he spends his time reading and studying languages. After the war, this informal education was his route to diplomatic service.
His stint as a diplomat unfortunately meant going through a second war under surveillance, this time in a friend’s apartment in Belgrade throughout the German occupation. This period of near-imprisonment, however, was extremely productive for his writing. The books now considered his’ Bosnian trilogy“ were all published in Yugoslavia in 1945: The bridge over the Drina, Bosnian Chronicle (Where Travnik Chronicle), and Sarajevo Woman (extremely difficult to find in English for less than the cost of a round trip to the city itself).
The New York Times 1975 obituary because Andrić called his novels and his short stories resolutely “dark“. That’s right – his wisdom and joy evident in other human beings has been tempered by his experiences. Surviving two world wars and a diplomatic position in a tumultuous political landscape did not make Andrić jaded, but sent him into a sort of perpetual state of mourning. His books strive to highlight the beauty and complexity of human relationships, to lament our darkest inclinations for violence, alienation and deception.
Despite an exciting experience in the public sphere, Andrić was an exceptionally private person and remained baffled by his readers’ curiosity for his personal life. Referring to the possibility that his house would one day become a museum, he replied categorically: “There is nothing to see. It’s not like I’m Tolstoy and living in Yasnaya Polyana.
He eventually developed such an aversion to the singular pronoun “I“ that he often spoke of himself in the first person plural. He was deeply opposed to the notion of heroes or strongmen, and filled his novels to the brim with minor characters and details of their lives. The story of each person was the story of others, of the community and of its relationship to history.
“On each book that represents a work of art and quality, we could write: ‘Stop of life – mine and yours. (Conversations with Goya. Bridges. Signs)
Obtaining the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 not only popularized his work, but also opened cultural doors to Yugoslavia. True to form, Andrić donated all the prize money to buy books for libraries in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He died beloved and admired – and his apartment was indeed turned into a museum. Despite international recognition, many of his works have yet to be translated into English, highlighting a cruel lack of literary translation in the English-speaking world. Here is a selection of titles that show the extent of Andric’s work. In each you will find wisdom and humility, beauty and betrayal – and, most importantly, an antidote to individualism.