It took me one month, I repeat ONE MONTH to finish Bosnian Chronicle by Ivo Andric and if we’re all about transparency here, that slow reading pace doesn’t bother my impatient self one bit.
Lately, I feel like all my posts have that line “you know how some books take you by surprise…” and yada yada yada yada. But I literally had no clue what I was getting myself into with this book.
I was drawn towards this cover of Bosnian Chronicle which features a Weekly Market in Sarajevo where you can see how the Jewish, Muslim, Christian traders co exist during the 18th/19th century.
Similarly, the author; Ivo Andric, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1961 for this book. He is a Yugoslavian national who was born in Travnik, Bosnia where the story is set in and was a student activist.
Ivo Andric and his work can be compared, in my humble opinion, to the stories cultivated by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Leo Tolstoy. The two authors wrote books spanning the life of their characters during historical events, while narrating the effect it had on them.
“… they are all calm, composed, they all know, at least at this moment, exactly what they want, it is only I who am confused and alarmed at the thought of tomorrow, exhausted and unhappy and what is more, obliged to hide it and bear it secretly, not giving myself away by a single sign.”
Tolstoy’s War and Peace focused on Moscow, Russia during Napolean’s invasion whereas Andric’s Bosnian Chronicle focuses on Napolean’s influence in the Ottoman empire. The events in this book are similar to W&P, except we see the affects of war and peace through a Bosnian lens.
Told simply, the story is about the French Consul and Austrian Consul situated in Travnik – a small town, impoverished and resistant to change where the inhabitants are skeptical, oppressed and strong enough to bear any storms.
“the both concealed their trug thoughts and eal fears under the veil of the kind of melancholy conversation which is often the recourse of older people who still expect something from life, but are conscious of their powerlessness.”
Told simply, it is a story of the exiled Ottoman Viziers, Turks, Jewish Merchants, Christian Priests, Muslim Traders, gypsies and stuck in between Daville – the French Consul who feels like a small fish in a big pond. Left on his own, sort of in the middle of nowhere, for the sake of Napolean and his empire.
“To love and hate both, to hesitate and waver all one’s life. To have two homelands, and yet have none. To be everywhere at home and to remain forever a stranger. In short, to live torn on a rack, but as both victim and torturer at once.”
You’ll be instantly transported to this small, insignificant town as soon as you open the book. You’ll be thrown deep into the worries and fears of every character be it a Priest who despises the French, the sad turn Musa the Singer’s life took leaving him with a voice that is losing its vivacity.
“people do not wish to be happy. Nations do not want rational government or honourable rulers. Goodness is a naked orphan in this world.”
Similarly, we meet Ottoman Viziers like Ibrahim Pasha still moaning the loss of Sultan Selim the third while being exiled, or the many Ayans and Beys (important dignitaries) sitting underneath a Lemon tree wondering what turn life will take.
It is a painstakingly beautiful story, leaving you hopeless than hopeful.
It is about adjusting to a world when it changes right infront of your eyes, and you’re still holding onto the past.
It is about diplomacy, and conniving schemes.
It is about the circle of life and death, the rise of powerful men and their fall.
It is about legacies and dynasties that begin in glory and end in dust.
Bosnian Chronicle was a special book that peeled away so many layers of the disguises people wear, that it leaves you feeling consumed and mystified.
All the while I was marveling at what a poetic and multi-layered book Ivo Andric wrote, and although I read the translation I am pretty sure that if read in the original language the experience would be a 1000 times better.
Because not a single sentence is extra or meaningless, not a single character and storyline is empty or a book filler, everything connects…
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 5.0/5.0
- Reader level: It’s neither hard nor easy, fairly in the middle.
- Favourite Quote: “one just travels. And the road has meaning and dignity only in so far as we are able to find those qualities in ourselves. There is no path or purpose. One just travels. Travels and exhausts oneself.”
- Should you read: If you love stories set in Russia and are/was a fan of Bridge of Spies, this will be right up your alley.
- Would I read it again: Yes!
Till next time,