Bosnian Chronicle

Review

a Travnicka hronika VelikaA timeless saga of intrigue and conquest in the heart of Bosnia presents the struggle for supremacy in a region that stubbornly refuses to submit to any outsider. Andric's sweeping novel spans the seven years 1807-1814, when French and Austrian consul served alongside the Turkish Viziers in the remote Bosnian town of Travnik, distant outpost of the Ottoman Empire. Divided as the community is, Muslims, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Jews and Gypsies all unite in a common contempt for their visitors. Isolated in a claustrophobic atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust, the consuls and Viziers vie with each other, following the fluctuations of their respective foreign policies. When international politics permit however, they console each other as best they can in this harsh and hostile land.

The time is Napoleonic and the novel, both in its historical scope and psychological subtlety, is Tolstoyan. In its portrayal of conflict and fierce ethnic Bosnian chronicleloyalties, the story is inevitably eerily relevant to readers today. Ottoman viziers, French consuls, and Austrian plenipotentiaries are consumed by a ceaseless game of diplomacy and double-dealing: expansive and courtly face-to-face, brooding and scheming behind closed doors. As they have for centuries, the Bosnians themselves observe and endure the machinations of greater powers that vie, futilely, to absorb them. Ivo Andric posses the rare gift in a historical novelist of creating a period-piece, full of local colour, and at the same time characters who might have been living today. His masterwork is imbued with the richness and complexity of a region that has brought much tragedy to our century and known so little peace.

The writer uses his native Bosnia as a microcosm of human society, stressing its potential for national, cultural and religious misunderstanding and conflict, and identifying the barriers of all kinds that hinder communication between individuals. Written against the background of violence released in these mixed communities during the Second World War, the novel now has renewed and poignant relevance.