Ivo Andric

Ivo Andric (October 9, 1892 – March 13, 1975) was a novelist, short story writer, and the 1961 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature from Yugoslavia (he was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that in the time of his biggest popularity was a part of Yugoslavia). His novels The Bridge on the Drina and Chronicles of Travnik / The Days of the Consuls dealt with life in Bosnia under the Ottoman Empire.

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Andric was born on October 9, 1892 of Croat and Serb parentage [1] in the village of Dolac near Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, then part of the Ottoman Empire, under occupation by Austria-Hungary. Originally named Ivan, he became known by the diminutive Ivo. When Andric was two years old, his father died. Because his mother was too poor to support him, he was raised by his mother’s family in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad on the river Drina. There he saw the Ottoman Bridge, later made famous in the novel The Bridge on the Drina.

Andric attended the Jesuit gymnasium in Travnik, followed by Sarajevo’s gymnasium and later the universities in Zagreb, Vienna, Krakow and Graz. Because of his political activities, Andric was imprisoned by the Austrian government during World War I (first in Maribor and later in the Doboj detention camp) alongside others pro-Yugoslavs civilians.

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Under the newly-formed Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) Andric became a civil servant, first in the Ministry of Faiths and then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he pursued a successful diplomatic career, as Deputy Foreign Minister and later Ambassador to Germany. Ivo greatly opposed the movement of Stjepan Radic, the president of the Croatian Peasant Party, at occasions calling the people that support him as fools that follow the footsteps of a blind dog. His ambassadorship ended in 1941 after the German invasion of Yugoslavia. During World War II, Andric lived quietly in Belgrade, completing the three of his most famous novels which were published in 1945, including The Bridge on the Drina.

After the war, Andric held a number of ceremonial posts in the new Communist government of Yugoslavia, including that of the member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1961, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country.” He donated all the prize money for the improvement of libraries in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Following the death of his wife in 1968, he began reducing his public activities. As time went by, he became increasingly ill and eventually died on March 13, 1975, in Belgrade (then Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and today Serbia).

Some of his other popular works include:

The Journey of Alija Derzelez (Put Alije Derzeleza, 1920)
The Vizier’s Elephant (Prica o vezirovom slonu, 1948; trans. 1962)
The Damned Yard (Prokleta avlija, 1954)
Omer-Pasha Latas (Omerpasa Latas, released posthumously in 1977)
It is assumed that “Jelena, zena koje nema” is dedicated to Andric’s secret love Jelena Trkulja.

During his studies at the University of Krakow, Poland, Ivo Andric declared himself as Croatian (Narodowość: Chorwat) Andric belongs to those writers that are hard to classify: he was both a Serbian and Croatian writer.

His native vernacular of Visegrad is Serbian-jekawian, other than genuin Croatian vernaculars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that are ikawian. As far as standard language is considered, he wrote in Serbo-Croatian; prior to World War I he had been a believer in Yugoslav unity and quasi-racial Slavic nationalism. However, it must be mentioned that Serbo-Croatian used to have two different subtypes – the so-called Eastern standardization (spread in Montenegro, Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in Macedonia), and Western standardization that was common in Croatia and Slovenia. Some characteristics of Western-standard are translating of foreign words, as well as some morphologic aspects such as the construction of future tense: radicu (Eastern), radit c (Western). As far as first issue is considered Andric never used the translated equivalents of foreign word, as it used to be common in West. As far as the second issue is considered, Andric allowed Croatian publishers to change his ekawian works into jekawian (unlike the Eastern-standard, Western-standard was purely jekawian), but he strictly forbid them to change his Future-Tense-construction.

His political career, combined with extraliterary factors, contributed to the controversy that still surrounds his work. However, a fair assessment of his works should not overlook the following facts and evaluations:

Andric is at his best in short stories, novellas and essayist meditative prose. Brilliant aphorisms and meditations, collected in his early poetic prose (Nemiri / “Anxieties”) and, particularly, posthumously published Znakovi pored puta / “Signs near the travel-road” are great examples of a melancholic consciousness contemplating the universals in human condition – not unlike Andric’s chief influence Kierkegaard. His best short stories and novellas are located in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina and frequently center on collisions between the three main Bosnian nations: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. Although social and denominational tensions are the scene for the majority of stories, Andric’s shorter works of fiction 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 Andric, as for other great regionalist authors like Hardy or Hawthorne, the regional permeates the universal.

However, with the collapse of Yugoslavia previously suppressed doubts about Andric’s work began to pop up. The commonest criticism is that Bosniaks are portrayed stereotypically in Andric’s work and in a hostile and condescending manner. Some circles of Bosnian Muslim intelligentia have raised these accusations to a significant degree, detecting positions and tendencies that could have, if displayed outside of a literary opus, earned Andric the reputation of a Greater Serbian propagandist and pamphleteer. Since Andric primarily wrote fiction, such accusations remain hard to substantiate. They do, however, express legitimate reservations about Andric’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.

At any rate, Andric’s work is now in the official curricula of Croat and Serb literature programs, and, grudgingly, in that of Bosnians. Since aesthetic sensibilities have significantly altered in past decades, a traditionalist storyteller like Andric is both a politically controversial figure and literarily a somewhat marginal presence: Many Croatian historians of literature have never considered him an equal to Miroslav Krleza. Serbs, for their part, affirm the aesthetic primacy of Milos Crnjanski and Bosniaks, that of Mehmedalija “Mesa” Selimovic – a writer from Bosnia who, like Ivo Andric, “opted” for Serbdom during a major part of his life.

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