Ivo Andrić was a writer, doctor of science and diplomat of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia
A world-famous writer, academic, diplomat, Nobel Prize laureate, and the Serbian Tolstoy, as some call him, was always measured, calm, dignified, and occasionally having a half-smile on his face. With his unobtrusive energy and restrained demeanour, Ivo Andrić never flaunted his great talent, strong intellect and noble wisdom. He only expressed those in his books and diplomatic work. Andrić reached world heights, but always tenderly spoke about his homeland. He was born in Travnik but grew up in Višegrad and Sarajevo.
This is what he wrote about them:
“At the beginning of all roads and paths, at the very thought of them, there is a sharply and indelibly incised trail on which I walked freely for the first time. That was in Višegrad. This is where I formed my thoughts about the wealth and beauty of the world. Here, ignorant, weak and empty-handed, I was happy with intoxicating happiness to the point of unconsciousness, happy with everything that is not there, cannot be and never will be. Down all the roads and paths that I treaded on later in life, I lived only off of that scanty happiness, of my thoughts about the wealth and beauty of the created world when I lived in Višegrad. Under every road in the country, the sharp Višegrad trail was constantly unwinding, visible only to me, from the day I left it until today. In fact, I used it to measure my step and adjust my gait. This trail was forever with me.”
“In Višegrad, I formed my thoughts about the wealth and beauty of the world”
Andrić began his literary career as a poet when he published his first work, the poem “U sumrak” (“At Dusk”), in 1911 in “Bosanska Vila” – one of the oldest culture magazines in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was an extraordinary connoisseur of the circumstances of old Bosnia, and the plot of his novels takes place mainly on Bosnian territory as a place of the eternal clash between East and West. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, for his lifetime work, with “The Bridge on the Drina” (“Na Drini Ćuprija”) being his most prominent book. The threads of his childhood are depicted in this book, as well as in many others in which he wrote about bridges and stone buildings. Looking at the strong pillars of the Drina Bridge every day, Višegrad exerted a very strong influence on his life and work, more than any other place.
GLOBAL CULTURE’S MOST IMPORTANT AWARD
In our literature, we can single out a number of writers who enriched our literary heritage with their exceptional works and occupied a significant place in the history of Serbian literature, but only Ivo Andrić managed to reach such a high position in European and world literature. He is the first, and for now, the only winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in our region, which he received “for the epic power with which he shaped the themes and presented the destinies of people throughout the history of his country”. Apart from him, British writers Lawrence Durrell and Graham Green, American John Steinbeck and Italian Alberto Moravia were also shortlisted. The Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy, Dr Anders Esterling, introduced Andrić at the award ceremony with the following words:
“Andrić possesses a lot of tenderness for people, but he does not shy away from horrors or violence, which, in his eyes, validates the reality of evil. He is a writer who is a master of a completely personal, original circle of motives. He opens a hitherto unknown page of the world chronicle and addresses us from the depths of the tormented soul of the South Slavs”.
“Andrić is the first, and for now, the only winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in our region”
According to the Ivo Andrić Endowment website, the award ceremony was followed by a glamorous banquet at the City Hall, which was accompanied by the sounds of a sevdalinka from Andrić’s native Bosnia – „Kad ja pođoh na Bembašu“, while the Stockholm University Madrigal Choir sang a composition by Josip Slavenski „Oj, jesenske duge noći“ in the Serbian language.
As a reward, Andrić received a cheque from the Scandinavian Bank for 250,000 Swedish kronor. He donated the entire award proceedings in two parts to the library fund of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also very often participated in campaigns to help libraries and donated money for humanitarian purposes.
A HUMBLE NOBEL PRIZE LAUREATE, APPROACHABLE DIPLOMAT
Apart from being a successful writer, Andrić was also a respected diplomat. Between the two world wars, he was a high official of the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. He served in Belgrade, Rome, Trieste, Brussels, Madrid, Geneva, Graz and Bucharest. His diplomatic career reached its peak in 1939 when he was appointed Plenipotentiary Minister and Ambassador Extraordinary of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to Berlin. Due to disagreement with the government’s policy, in the early spring of 1941, Andrić resigned as ambassador, but his proposal was not accepted so he had to attend the signing of the Tripartite Pact on March 25 in Vienna, as the official representative of Yugoslavia. The day after the bombing of Belgrade, on April 7, Andrić left Berlin with the Embassy staff. He rejected the offer of the German authorities to move to Switzerland, which was safer, and chose to return to the occupied Belgrade. According to the website of the Ivo Andrić Endowment, after arriving in Belgrade, he lived in seclusion in Prizrenska Street, in a flat which he shared with the lawyer Brane Milenković.
In the quiet of his rented room, he first wrote „The Travnik Chronicle“, and at the end of 1944, he finished „The bridge on the Drina“. Both novels were published in Belgrade a few months after the end of WWII. In late 1945, the novel „Gospodjica“ was published in Sarajevo. Thanks to these books, but also to the books like „Prokleta Avlija“ and „Jelena, žena koje nema“, Ivo Andrić’s work became a part of world literature. Even today, almost half a century since his death, Andrić, originally from the Bosnian habitat, lives among us, as a humble Nobel laureate, approachable diplomat and glorious writer. His quotes like – „There were so many things in life that we feared and we shouldn’t have. We should have lived“ or „As long as there is night, there is also dawn“ – enrich our lives and make us wiser and braver, as we continue to seek peace, strength and comfort in them.