This is the most famous Bosnia novel by Author Selimovic written in 1966. It is the first person narrative based around 1700s Sarajevo Islamic tekke (monastery).
The basic story is the narrator Sheikh Nuruddin, an ex-soldier of about 40 years old, is a leading member of a religious order (a Dervish) on the outskirts of the town (kasba). He lives along side Mustafa, deaf and married with kids; Mullah Yusaf, a 25 year old ill pale individual; and finally Hufiz-Mohammed, a knowledgeable youth and initial friend of Hassan. We learn that the local kadi (town leader) has had Nuruddin’s brother (a simple clerk, 15 years his junior) arrested. He’s invited to Hassan’s father’s house where the sister tries to persuade him to get Hassan to deny his inheritance (for dishonouring behaviour Constantinople). Nuruddin sees the potential to gain influence and get his brother released. Hassan grows to be Nuruddin’s close friend whilst horse trading and womanising (possibly Catholics).
Nuruddin is an existential, over thinker. He plans, schemes and visits important people to effect his goals which start with freeing his brother but about half way turn to revenge on the town’s people and leaders. We certainly get in side his head; and for all his religion, his God plays surprising little on his mind – he still seems very much wedded to this earth in his views, personal and selfish behaviour. Nuruddin is ultimately a complex and unforgiving character and we have 450 pages of detailed, hard going, narrative based in a multicultural historic setting. Ultimately, I think, the tale is about betrayal on many levels social, religious, family and friends.
“I look at these long rows of words, the tombstones of my thoughts, and I do not know whether I have killed them, or given them life”
“What was I risking? I did not know, and therefore I say: everything.”
“Failure doesn’t upset you, since you can always rely on eternity; you find justifications in reasons beyond yourself. Personal loss is less important. And pain. And men. And the present day. Everything continues into eternity, faceless and vast, sleepily torpid and solemnly indifferent. Like the sea: it cannot lament the innumerable deaths that continually occur in it”
“Hope is the pimp of death, a murderer more dangerous than hatred. It’s deceptive; it knows how to win you over, to calm you and lull you to sleep, whispering whatever you want to hear, leading you to the blade”
“It became clear to me how men die. I saw that it is not so hard. Or easy. It is nothing. One just starts living less and less, being less and less, thinking, feeling and knowing less and less. The rich flow of life dries up, and only a thin thread of uncertain consciousness remains, more and more meagre, more and more insignificant. And then nothing happens, there is not anything, there is nothing. And nothing matters – it is all the same.”
“The only thing I don’t know is how long guilt lasts. Does it continue into the next world?”
This is quite a bleak, dark and challengingly dense book. It’s not the easiest of reads and the story, though a constant tread to its ultimate finale, his secondary to the depth of social, political and personal intrigues and motives. It’s an east-European condensed soup mix of Sartre, Pessoa and Andric. 4 stars.
This is about street-level Islam, the kind that's kin with Judaism and Christianity and not the kind that's imposed from on high (as, though to a far lesser extent now than formerly, are Judaism and Christianity). I have courted derision by using the phrase Proustian amplitude in connection with another novel, but it fits here too. The book's also sexy, in a way our post-Christian, emasculated then 'liberated' literature rarely manages if aspiring above the level of a James Bond: so, another Proustian link. (Proust steamy? And how!) This Bosnian is a real discovery
Actually, that's not quite true: there are oodles of Western novels about 'sin'*, in particular by French Catholics, Mauriac the arch-sinner. But sexy? I think not. Zola at the other, licentious end of the spectrum is equally a turnoff. Thank goodness then for the poets! Rimbaud's Sensation says it all in just eight lines
Those of you who've tasted Proust will be moving swiftly on. Those who haven't? Start today! He will accompany you the rest of your life. And now back to the dervish. The translation feels authentic, an arresting, solemn-sounding 'with heartbeats full of impatience' where one might have expected the anodyne standard-issue 'my heart beating with impatience'
* So outdated a concept: I'm not aware that even Marilynne Robinson** tackles it, other than in vapidities like 'thinking that other people might go to hell just feels evil to me, like a very grave sin'. So Hell's for the chop also?
** the egregious MR, she who said 'science is itself a spectacular argument for the singularity of human beings among all things that exist'. So American, this immodest exceptionalism! On the contrary, science is evidence of the interconnectedness of all things. Buddhism gets it.
This book was commended to me a Bosnian Writer some years ago as Bosnia's finest written work, encapsulating in style and the characters in the book, the essence of Bosnia Culture. The style of writing is so extraordinarily condensed, with such an exceptionally intense focus on analysis of a psychological nature,that it is easily one of the most difficult novels one can hope to read. Yet as you read, you cannot help but be struck by the sheer brilliance of a mind that can create such intense and demanding dialogue with its reader. Using the plot of a witnessed murder and the immense problems with conscience the witness thereafter experiences as a result of what he has seen, set in the backdrop of Ottoman Bosnia, a malevolent Byzantine like world of intrigue is revealed. It is a truly astounding piece of work, doubtlessly as the Bosnian reviewer pointed out, needing patience and several readings, operating as it does on several levels. If you want to get a strong feel for the Bosnian Culture, this book beyond any other will take you to the heart of this complex and talented people.
Although this book describes the Otoman Bosnia, it's ultimately about a human soul and all the negative and positive aspect of one. Selimovic's understanding of human nature, ruling power, lights and darks of a tortured soul is unparallel to any other author. As for the difficult read, I certainly don't find it as such, on the contrary, almost every sentence is a wisdom itself. Very highly recommend to anyone who enjoys an excellent phsycological study of a human soul and nature.
This is not the kind of book that can be reduced to the sort of nationalist rhetoric indulged in by some reviewers. It is slow, ponderous and as some have suggested a difficult read but one that reveals layers and depths on subsequent readings. Despite what some would suggest this book is not about some mythic tortured Bosnian soul but the soul of a single individual in an undefined period of Ottoman rule in the Balkans. Reading it as lesson in Balkan history or of Turkish misrule would strike this reviewer as a misreading.The book focuses on Ahmed Nuruddin's chronic indecisiveness through a series of meditations informed by images gleaned from the Koran and the Islamic culture of the Balkans. This would suggest that it may be profitable to read this novel in parallel with modern poetry from Bosnia such as Abdulah Sidran or Hadzem Hajdarevic or with Turkish writers like Sadik Yalsizucanlar, Sezai Karakoc or Cahit Zarifoglu. Such a reading may move us away from simplictic nationalist interpretations and allow us to see that yes the Bosnians are indeed a complex people, one of many throughout the world.
“Bismilahir-rahmanir-rahim! I call for the witness Time that is the beginning and the end of everything and that tells how everyone human being is loser. “ Each chapter of this novel begins with verses from the Koran. Each verse is proverb or assumption how we are small and complicated, how in the end we are all equal for Death is something unavoidable; for beggar and for King. Dervish Ahmed Nurudin guides us through way or thinking that most of Bosnian Muslims grown up with. Not just Muslims even Christians and Jews grown in our cites and villages. Mighty be a reader that is not familiar with us asks, “Where is the difference”. The difference is that Bosnian Muslim world is much more irrational and unmaterialistic. One gain respect by deeds not by money. Our tragedy is that we were /are always colony to some Imperia. Turkish Imperia that brought Islam and made frame for converting from one old religion of Bogumils to something New. Ahmed tells about this colonization, the difference between Bosnian thinking and Turkish. – Master /Servant relations that in present days many Bosnian Muslims tend to forget. And search for friend where we never historical had them /read in the novel/. They try to forget Time of fermans and hatisherifs /Sultans decisions many times on life and death sent to Bosnia and other provinces of the Great Empire/. We are nation that needs many readings before summarizing and conclusion so do not be discouraged if you did not get a point after the first reading.
My short summary about this novel would be incomplete without telling something about us Bosnians. We are the most complicated people on this planet. Mr. Selimovic gives through this novel all segments of out mind. Ahmed Nurudin is me or any other Bosnian. Never tell the whole what he thinks and when you think, “I have got a point” you realize you are on the beginning. I have read this novel a few times in different age. The first time when I was 13. I did not understand much. This novel asks for mature reading that is familiar with hard readings. Do not miss read this novel especially if you have any connection to Bosnia. Read again chapters, enjoy in verses from the Holly Koran- each chapter begins with them. Happy reading.