(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The beginning of The Woman from Sarajevo finds Rajka Radakovi, a middle-aged spinster, in Belgrade, the capital city of Yugoslavia, where she moved after World War I from her native Sarajevo. She has lived alone with her mother since the age of fifteen, when her beloved father, a well-known businessman, died, bankrupt and in disgrace. In flashbacks, the story of her happy childhood and unhappy girlhood is told. The only child, withdrawn and overly serious for her age, she felt secure while her father was alive. Just before he died, he warned her to “save, save always, everywhere and in everything,” and not to trust people because “all our feelings and concerns for others show our weaknesses only.” He wanted to warn his child not to become a victim, as he had, of scrupulous ethics in business, which had brought him to ruin. This warning marks the beginning of an aberration in young Rajka that will eventually grow to monstrous proportions. She takes her father’s advice literally and from an early age begins a life of excessive thrift and self-denial that borders on obsession. As soon as she comes of age, she takes over her father’s business and, with a remarkable dexterity, rebuilds the family fortune, mainly by lending money at exorbitant rates. She denies both her mother and herself all normal pleasures, save for very basic needs. She isolates herself from her friends and, little by little, turns away all family friends and most of her relatives. Her life centers exclusively on money matters, out of a pathological fear that she will suffer the same financial ruin as her father. That insecurity, coupled with...

(The entire section is 665 words.)