The Titanic Bar

Review

The story is published in 1950, portrays the agonized fear of the Jewish owner of a little bar in Sarajevo on the one hand and the development of the brutal inadequate personality of a young Fascist, or “Ustasha”, on the other. The material is superficially as directly a product of the specific circumstances of the Second World War.

“The Titanic Bar” describes the situation in Sarajevo in the early stages of the War before the systematic removal of the Jewish population to work camps or extermination, when individual members of the Ustasha movement took advantage of the times to rob and persecute individual Jews. Some of these “Ustasha” acquired large sums of money or jewellery through blackmail or in return for helping some Jews and their families to leave the country. Andrić describes the dignity, squalid little bar owned by Mento Papo, so small that only half-a-dozen customers can stand in it at one time; and the character of Papo himself, the black sheep of the Sephardic community of Sarajevo, who took up with petty gamblers and drinkers at an early age and is generally regarded as having disgraced the Jews. The portrait of the young man in Ustasha uniform, Stjepan Ković is given as an inadequate, dissatisfied and consequently potentially dangerous personality. He is a man who needs some outward sign of importance: he has to carry something as he walks through the town. Ković suffers from a painful, obsessive desire to be something other than he is, above all to be seen to be important.

This story is a satisfactory coincidence of universal, generalized themes of fear and persecution with the specific circumstances of the Second World War in Bosnia, with both aspects of the whole developed. As in the case of the victims in earlier stories, Papo’s vulnerability acts as a magnet, a provocation to Ković’s aggression, which is turn functions as compensation for his own sense of uneasy dissatisfaction.