Ivo Andri’s family origins embody that ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of modern Yugoslavia that has always been one of the underlying subjects of his fiction. He was born in the tiny hamlet of Dolac in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina (then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) on October 10, 1892. His father, a Serb of the Orthodox faith, was a poor coppersmith; his mother was a Croat and a Roman Catholic. When Ivo was an infant, his father died, and his mother took him to live with her parents in the eastern town of Viegrad, where he played on the bridge erected by the Turks that was later to be the location and subject of his greatest novel. A brilliant student, he had translated some of Walt Whitman’s poetry into Serbo-Croatian by the time he was nineteen. His education was interrupted by his political activities, however. As a youth he had joined Young Bosnia, an organization dedicated to creating an independent nation for the South Slavs. After another member of the organization assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, in 1914 (the event that precipitated World War I), Andri was arrested and imprisoned for three years.
Andri always said that his imprisonment forced him to mature rapidly, both as a writer and as a human being. He read extensively, especially the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose work gave substance to Andri’s already developing pessimism. Released from prison in 1917, he began to publish poetry he had written while incarcerated, joined the editorial staff of a literary journal, and resumed his academic career. During the next six years, Andri studied languages, philosophy, and history at universities in Poland, Austria, and Yugoslavia, earning a Ph.D. in history in 1923 from the University of Graz in Austria. His work on his doctoral thesis, a...
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