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Old Fort, Travnik, Bosnia

I have spent half of the last week recovering from Covid-19, and half reading a superb novel about Bosnia in the early 19th century written by a Bosnian Serb named Ivo Andrić. Bosnian Chronicle describes life in the North Bosnian backwater town of Travnik when France opens a consulate there, and Austria follows suit, around 1807.

Described in loving detail by Andrić are the staffs of the two consulates and their families and aides; the three Ottoman Pashas in charge during the period covered and their aides; the local begs (first families) of the town; the religious leaders of the Islamic, Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox Christian factions; the local doctors; and various peasants. The net result is a layered picture of Bosnian society and various French and Austrian “interlopers” during the height of the Napoleonic Era.

The book ends with Napoleon’s capture and exile on Elba, necessitating the closing of the French consulate, followed in short order by the closing of the Austrian consulate.

My Hungarian upbringing tends to make me more interested in Central and Eastern Europe than most other Americans. Fortunately, there is no lack of great literature east of Vienna: Ivo Andrić, for instance, a native of Travnik and a Bosniak himself, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 for The Bridge of the Drina. I have also read his Omar Pasha Latas: Marshal to the Sultan, which is available in a New York Review edition.

I turn to the East to look for literary treasures, and I have not been disappointed.