The Journey of Alija Đerzelez

Review

Andrić’s first short story, published in 1920. Its protagonist is the hero of a large number of Moslem heroic ballads. Bearing in mind the special place accorded to “legend” and “fairy-tale” in Andrić’s statements about art, we should consider exactly what form “the grain of truth contained in legend” takes in this tale.

The traditional ballads concerned with Alija deal exclusively with his prowess on the battlefield. Andrić refers to his fame in just one sentence: "He was renowed for many battles and his fearful strength... " and immediatelly takes him off his horse, setting him down in a context where he appears awkward because he is not used to being on the ground, or to normal social interaction. His stature is a t once diminished: “In a few days the magic circle around Đerzelez had quite disappeared. “There is no clear reason why the label “hero“ should have attached itself to this particular person. He is small, unprepossessing and ungainly as soon as he dismounts, awkward and uninteresting in conversation. He is slow-witted and chronically lacking in imagination. But he is also obsessive. Once he sees a beautiful woman he can think of nothing else but possessing her. Or he abandons himself wholeheartedly to the singing of a particularly fine traditional singer: “Đerzelez felt that the singer tugging at his soul and that any moment now, he would expire, from excessive strength, or excessive weakness. “

Đerzelez can flourish only in circumstances where his simple-minded strength energy can be expressed in the immediate violent ways he understands. He is quite baffled by more intricate social relationships and by the whole deeply disturbing question of women. Andrić here exploits the comic possibilities exposing a renowned hero to the demands made on men by their ballads about Marko Kraljević