Ivo Andrić 1892-1975
Yugoslavian short story writer, novelist, poet, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on Andrić's works from 1978 through 1998. For criticism prior to 1978, see CLC, Volume 8.
Ivo Andrić, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, is widely considered to be the most important Yugoslavian writer of the twentieth century. He produced critically acclaimed works in several genres, particularly novels and short stories, most of which are set in Bosnia and explore the tragic nature of the human condition, reflecting especially the political and social turbulence of his native land.
Andrić was born in Trávnik, Bosnia, on October 9, 1892, to a Croatian family. When his father died of tuberculosis in 1894, the family moved to Višegrad, a small town with a well-known bridge that spanned the river Drina; bridges would become a recurring symbol in his fiction. Andrić enrolled in the University of Zagreb in 1912, only to transfer to the University of Vienna the following year. It was there that he became involved in the burgeoning Bosnian nationalist movement. He transferred again shortly thereafter, this time to the University of Krakow in Poland. In 1914 Andrić published several reviews and poems in local periodicals. He was elected president of the Young Bosnia movement, a group advocating intellectual and spiritual rebirth as well as political revolution. After the group was implicated in the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo in 1914—the event that led to the outbreak of World War I—Andrić was arrested and imprisoned for three years. The case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence, and he was released in 1917. Andrić returned to Zagreb, where he entered the diplomatic service in 1920. Throughout his career he was posted in several European cities, and he continued in his official capacity after the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes united with Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina, and Kosovo to form Yugoslavia in 1929. In 1938 Andrić was serving as ambassador to Nazi Germany in Berlin and was disappointed when Yugoslavia signed the tripartite pact, which pledged support to Italy and Germany in the military and political action that would become World War II. In March 1941 he resigned from his professional duties. When Germany invaded Yugoslavia ten days later, Andrić fled to Belgrade, where he lived in self-imposed isolation for the next three years, despite the eventual German occupation of the city. It was during this time that Andrić wrote what has come to be known as his Bosnian Trilogy: Gospodjica (1945; The Woman from Sarajevo), Travnička hronika (1945; Bosnian Story), and Na Drini ćuprija (1945; The Bridge on the Drina). With the end of World War II and the successful Communist revolution in Yugoslavia, Andrić once again participated in the political and intellectual activities of his homeland. He died on March 13, 1975, after a long illness.
Andrić's early stories, which are set in Bosnia between the two World Wars, focus on the brutal and unrelenting violence perpetuated by society. In later works the explicit nature of the violence is often muffled, but cruelty and brutality are often just below the surface. No doubt influenced by three years spent in an Austrian prison during World War I, Andrić frequently focused on the theme of isolation, both physical and mental, in his prison memoir, Ex ponto (1918) and in his stories, including “The Bridge of the Žepa” and the novella Prokleta avlija (1954; The Damned Yard). Yet Andrić's stories are not always pure gloom; some of his best-known characters—the Franciscan monk Petar and the one-eyed village fool Corkan, who both appear in more than one work—are considered both comical and compelling. In his Bosnian Trilogy Andrić attempted to present a more complete history of his homeland, beginning with The Woman from Sarajevo, which deals with the conflicting cultural influences that created the land then known as Yugoslavia and the resulting bourgeois amorality and irresponsibility. In Bosnian Story—which has also been translated into English and published as Bosnian Chronicle and The Days of the Consuls—Andrić focused on the conflicts that arose between the French and Austrian consulates during the Napoleonic era as they vied to win the favor of the Turkish vizier and the support of the local townspeople. Critics have also noted that the novel dramatizes the clash between East and West, with Bosnia representing in microcosm the centuries-long struggle between the Muslim and Christian worlds. While The Woman from Sarajevo deals with social conditions in mid-twentieth-century Yugoslavia and Bosnian Story covers seven years in the early nineteenth, The Bridge on the Drina spans more than three centuries in the history of the region, beginning with the Turks' construction of a bridge over the Drina River in Višegrad and continuing until shortly before World War I. The bridge, it has been noted, serves throughout as an image of constancy in a turbulent world.
Critics have praised Andrić's objective exploration of conflict, war, brutality, and hatred. His ability to universalize these themes and experiences in his early work is thought to make him more than just a regional writer; rather, he is considered a cogent and insightful observer of the human condition. Moreover, Andrić's portrayal of the human capacity for evil has been regarded as an effective commentary on the modern world. Critics have also commended his use of legend and myth as well as his incorporation of historical events in his work. In fact, Andrić's use of diverse themes, characters, narrative styles, literary forms, ideology, and moods proves his versatility and facility as an author. Commentators have noted the influence of such writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Soren Kierkegaard, and Albert Camus.