Introduction

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Ćosić, Dobrica 1921–

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Ćosić is a Yugoslav novelist and essayist. His war novels, noted for both their psychological depth and their historical understanding, depict the plight of Serbian peasants victimized by world war. His first novel, Far Away Is the Sun, is considered a classic of resistance literature.

Zoran Gaurilović

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ZORAN GAURILOVIĆ

Vreme smrti (Time of Death) strikes a new path in the development of the Serbian novel because it opens many hitherto unknown areas, offers new esthetic values and demands new answers to the old questions….

It is not easy to say what the basic virtues of the novel are, simply because there are so many. The book has many layers and meanings; it is closed inwardly and yet open to ideas, so it is hard to make more definite judgments. For, to take for a subject an entire country under extremely dramatic historical conditions, to compress its fate into a novel, to place that fate and drama firmly within the European framework and within even larger questions of the meaning of national sacrifice and resistance—all that represents much more than what we are accustomed to in our fiction. Vreme smrti belongs to those exceptional works in which time distances are artistically bridged.

Vreme smrti is not a chronicle nor is it a pathetic description of great events. It is a work of art through which these events are presented as fateful moral and intellectual decisions which at that time were not yet quite clear. For everything is here: the actors of the drama, the question of Serbia's place in Europe, the problem and vision of Yugoslavism, the relations with the Allies and also the moral sense of the sacrifice and endless meanings of the victory. Therefore Vreme smrti offers a singular truth about events that are strongly felt even in our day. At the same time the work contains ideas, strong antiwar accusation, problems, doubts, love and dilemmas. Passionately immersed in the very being of the nation, the novel brings that being to light and to a wider and more universal level. Through this the narrow framework of time, so prevalent in the Yugoslav novel, is widened. The randomness and coldness of real facts are formed into a dialogue with the meaning of historical existence.

Zoran Gaurilović, "World Literature in Review: 'Vreme Smrti'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 1, Winter, 1977, p. 126.∗

Njegoš M. Peirović

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NJEGOŠ M. PEIROVIĆ

A major literary work of our century, A Time of Death is a colossal novel in the best classical tradition of Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann. It is the story of the survival of the Serbian people in one of the most tragic periods of their history—the First World War….

Set in the midst of this senseless destruction and rage, when death was so common that it went almost unnoticed, Dobrica Ćosić's masterful plot rises to the grandeur of his people's dignity and aspirations. With great compassion and humanistic perception, Ćosić portrays the soul-searching anguish of Vukašin Katić, leader of the Serbian Parliamentary Opposition, who must see his only son, Ivan, sent to the battlefield. Katić queries whether liberty and independence are worth the ultimate sacrifice of the country's young.

Njegoš M. Petrović, "Fiction: 'A Time of Death'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1978 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 38, No. 1, April, 1978, p. 4.

Ivan Sanders

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[Measured] against classic war novels Dobrica Ćosić's massive work [A Time of Death], a shortened version of an even vaster cycle of novels about Serbia's struggle for survival during World War One, hardly qualifies as a masterpiece.

The author may have had War and Peace in mind all along; he may have wanted to communicate the reality of war even more graphically than Tolstoy did—in one battle scene a student soldier hears the screams of men hit by shrapnel, and exclaims: "I don't remember anything like that from War and Peace."—but the novel lacks Tolstoy's luminous and urgent realism. It, too, paints a broad canvas and fills it with a host of representative types, but Tolstoy's willed randomness is missing. There is too much crucial dialogue and revealing interior monologue here; too many neatly described scenes. Of course, it may be unfair to compare every realist war novel to War and Peace, though Ćosić invites comparison, not only by making pointed references to the Russian masterpiece, but by reaching conclusions about war that are remarkably close to Tolstoy's views. For Ćosić, as for Tolstoy, war becomes a metaphor for the human condition. (p. 412)

Perhaps it is because A Time of Death is such a perfect example of national literature that its significance wanes when read in translation, in a different cultural milieu. Even though Ćosić is too sophisticated an artist to exploit nationalist feelings—the book is not so much a paean to Serbian fortitude as a study of a people in mortal danger—there are a great many names, places, dates in the novel that resonate with meaning only for the Serbian reader. The outsider may vaguely sense the reverberations, but he can not be moved by them.

Nevertheless, as a historical novel A Time of Death documents convincingly the ordeal of a small nation overrun by a powerful neighbor and abandoned by her allies. (pp. 412-13)

When the peasants are made to talk too much like peasants; when too many students are portrayed as disillusioned idealists; when conversations between generals and junior officers are interlarded with clichés and stock responses, the reader wearies of the novel, and of the author's compulsion to tell all. But when the immense destruction and dislocation of war are concentrated in comprehensible tragedies—a father mourning his son, a soldier desperately searching for his horse, a student rushing to his death to prove he is not a coward—then A Time of Death becomes a poignant tribute to human dignity and perseverence. (pp. 413-14)

Ivan Sanders, "Tolstoy in Serbia," in Commonweal (copyright © 1979 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CVI, No. 13, July 6, 1979, pp. 412-14.

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