Dobrica osi’s entry into literature was made easier by his rich experiences in World War II. He came out of it as a proud young victor, full of hopes for a better future and ready for further sacrifices. This desire to help in building a better life for his fellow human beings undoubtedly spurred him to his first literary efforts. As he grew as a writer, however, another desire became even stronger—to seek the truth and to tell it in an artistic fashion, regardless of consequences.
Far Away Is the Sun
osi’s first novel, Far Away Is the Sun, is more than another fictional account of war experiences. Although based on true events and largely autobiographical, it is a skillfully written war novel, with fast-moving action, believable events, and well-developed characters. It had a refreshing effect after osi experienced several abortive attempts at writing war fiction in the manner of Socialist Realism. The novel’s refreshing quality is reflected in a much greater objectivity. To be sure, the partisan struggle is still glorified; the leading characters display, at times, the superhuman powers and the instinctive ability to separate right from wrong characteristic of Socialist Realist heroes; and the enemy is, for the most part, utterly evil. There is also, however, a willingness to admit that the heroes might sometimes be wrong after all. This attitude is best illustrated by an interesting possibility that all four parties involved in the climactic decision at the end of the novel, when the survival of the partisan unit is at stake, could be both right and wrong. By taking such an attitude, the author shows his awareness of the complexity of situations in which the warring sides often found themselves. He also seems willing to admit that, even though the correctness of the partisan cause was never in doubt, individual actions and decisions were not always above reproach.
The novel’s restrained tone and its traditional realistic manner, as well as its undeniable originality, despite some similarities to Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Fadeev’s Razgrom (1927; The Nineteen, 1929) and Nikolai Alekseevich Ostrovsky’s Kak zakalialas’ stal’ (1932-1934; The Making of a Hero, 1937), make it understandable why Far Away Is the Sun is enduringly popular in osi’s homeland—almost a classic. osi would surpass himself in later novels, but this work will always remain one of those whose success defies an easy explanation, especially when it is considered in the light of what it meant in the struggle against Socialist Realism.
With Koreni (roots), osi began a series of novels that would, when completed, offer a large canvas of the development of Serbian society in the twentieth century. The time of Koreni actually goes back to the last decade of the nineteenth century. The main character, a strong-willed, rebellious, and stubborn peasant, Aim Kati, is driven by an often expressed desire to see the creation of a just democratic society among the Serbian peasants, who had been ruled by primitive impulses for centuries. For that purpose, he sends his younger son to be educated in France. When his son refuses to return to his native village upon the completion of his studies and, what is worse, joins a political party opposing his father’s, the true nature of Aim Kati comes through. Deeply hurt by his son’s betrayal, he manifests through his grief and anger a frustrated will to dominate everyone and everything around him, as well as a hidden fear of defeat by both human beings and fate. He marries his sterile older son to a strong peasant woman and arranges for an offspring with the help of an equally virile neighbor. At the end of the novel, the powerfully created characters and their destinies remain in limbo, to be taken up again in later novels. The roots are revealed, but the growth is yet to come.
This stark peasant tale is told in a highly lyric and experimental style, which fits the dark, naturalistic atmosphere of the life of Serbian peasants at the beginning of the twentieth century. The rather simple realism of osi’s first novel gives way to a poetic realism, revealing his preoccupation not only with social and political matters but also with a search for a truly artistic idiom—a search that will be repeated from novel to novel.
In his ambitious novel Deobe (divisions), osi returns to World War II, taking up again many themes from Far Away Is the Sun: bravery under the most trying conditions; the struggle of a small nation against an overpowering enemy; peasants bearing the brunt of that struggle, reluctant to fight away from their homes; corruption of the existing order; and the weaknesses and sins of the enemy. The basic change lies in the point of view. In the former novel, the war struggle is seen from the vantage point of the partisans; in Deobe, the point of view shifts to the opposing side, the Chetniks, a nationalist force fighting both the Germans and the partisans. The Chetniks are not treated favorably at all; their point of view is used mainly to discredit them. In this sense, Deobe is much less objective than any other of osi’s novels. The Chetniks are maligned, while the partisans, though barely visible in the distant background, show their moral superiority.
osi’s subjectivity, however, can be explained by his desire, among other things, to understand why the Chetniks committed the despicable acts ascribed to them and whether they could have behaved differently. Why do human beings commit such bestial acts of horror? (The knife, used most often in perpetrating these horrors, becomes here the symbol of bestiality.) Why is hatred so deep that it destroys reason? Can the descendants of those same people comprehend and believe many years later that such acts were, and even could be, committed by humans? Thus the purpose of the author’s efforts in this novel is not the objective, or even subjective, depiction of the civil war, but rather an attempt to penetrate the way of thinking of people responsible for war. Seen from this angle, Deobe attains a much more universal significance than may be perceived on first reading.
Not that osi offers satisfactory answers. As the war drags on and the inhumanity of the participants intensifies to an alarming degree, he becomes more philosophical about it. He is convinced that war leads to utter demoralization, total chaos, and despair. Everybody feels compelled to fight everybody else, hatred permeates everything, all are killers. The eye-for-an-eye principle becomes dominant. Even though osi attributes most of these aberrations to the enemies of the partisans, a realization grows in him that more is involved than the struggle for social, political, and ideological causes and changes for the better. On one hand, war has moved inward, into the very hearts and souls of the participants. On the other, the signs of resignation and helplessness are increasingly visible, illustrated by statements such as, “It’s war.We are guilty because we are humans and because we are alive.” There is even a hint that war is a total mystery, beyond anyone’s ability to explain it.
Descendants of the characters from Koreni reappear in Deobe, though in somewhat secondary roles. osi again experiments with his style, mostly by using a film-influenced technique of numerous quick shots, many flashbacks, scant description, frugal punctuation, and a choruslike, impersonal character, a kind of Everyman on his descent into Hell. The multiple voices of the chorus symbolize the universality of the tragedy portrayed in the novel. In this sense, Deobe is an important step toward the mature style of osi’s final works, especially This Land, This Time.
Bajka (the fairy tale) is more of an interlude than an organic step in osi’s development. His only novel not based fully on realistic events, it is nevertheless a repository of his ideas about the same problems depicted in his more realistic works. In a thinly veiled allegory about a mythical state, in the...
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