Ahmet Shabo is a young man from 18th century Ottoman Bosnia, who returns to his native Sarajevo after experiencing all the horrors of war during battles in distant Russia. The war has a major psychological effect on him, and he seems unable or unwilling to rejoin the society. A kind friend offers him a decent job with which he'll be able to support himself and perhaps even advance in social circles. Things go wrong for Ahmet, however, after a party that he gets invited to thrown by some very important city officials. His struggles to reclaim a place in the World become the main focal point of the book from then on.
Like in his more famous novel "The Death and the Dervish," Selimovi'c manages to embed the personal struggles of one man under a totalitarian communist regime into a much more distant past and an equally oppressive medieval Ottoman rule. One can imagine that writing under the keen watchful eye of a communist state made Selimovi' resort to this tactic. Selimovi'c is also an exceptional stylist. You can find remarkable and insightful sentences on almost every page of the book. Also, almost all of the dialogues have a deep philosophical undertone to them. Selimovic''s insights into human psyche are uncanny, and the lessons that he draws from them are timeless. Perhaps the most famous of his insights is the claim, put into the mouth of one of the protagonists, that there are three major vices that we are tempted towards: alcohol, gambling and power. While we can overcome the first two, the last one is unconquerable.
The main struggle that Ahmet is engaged in is not with his opponents who make his life extremely difficult. It is rather an internal struggle between accepting one of the two opposing worldviews: a fatalist one where the life's events are so far outside one's control that is meaningless to take any personal initiative, and a much more individualist worldview that affirms the value of an individual and supports the notion that our individual strivings have a meaning and a positive effect on our lives.
The fortress from the title is the motif that acquires many different meanings throughout the book. It is a physical place that is instrumental to the plot, but it also represents several different life circumstances and states of mind. Selimovi' adroitly exploits all of these multiple meanings, and effortlessly shuffles between them without the danger of overusing the metaphor.
This is one of two Selimovic''s great works and in every respect as good as "The Death and the Dervish." It needs to be read by anyone who wants to get a better understanding of the life, relationships, and the historical circumstances that have shaped Bosnia through the centuries. The book also cements Selimovi''s place as one of the great World writers of the twentieth century.