Letter from the Year 1920

Review

A reflection on the nature of intercultural relations in Bosnia is given in a piece published in 1946, under the “Letter from the Year 1920”. Throughout his work Andrić uses Bosnia, with its potential for intercultural conflict, as an image of the human world where the basic conditions of existence can be seen in an extreme, raw form. His frequent reference to the widespread and deep-seated hatred which he describes as characterizing the atmosphere of Bosnian life should be seen in these terms. Whether or not the story was written, or at least drafted, earlier, it is certainly no coincidence that it was published when it was, when the strife which Andrić had witnessed in the First World War was exaggerated systematically in the circumstances of open anti-Semitism and civil war.

This story is similar in flavour and manner to several published after the Second World War, in which the first-person narrator examines incidents from his own childhood and youth, usually expanding them into the more general statements. The degree to which these sketches and stories are actually autobiographical is in many cases uncertain, but together they add up to something approaching an account of the development of the writer’s imaginative life. In this story the references to the response of the narrator to the world of books are familiar. And it is likely that the character of Marks Levenfeld is based on someone known to Andrić as a young man. The substance of the piece, and letter itself, however, need have existed only in Andrić’s imagination, stimulated by his understanding of Bosnia and his knowledge of the repercussions there of both world wars. It is a lengthy reflection of the nature of hatred, seen as an organic force, the “correlative” of fear. In the context of Andrić’s experience of war the irrational fear characterizing human existence can be seen to have been channeled in a particular direction.