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Title: Meša Selimović: Il derviscio e la morte
Authors: Marvulli, Maria Cristina
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Maria Cristina Marvulli, "Meša Selimović: Il derviscio e la morte", in: Slavica Tergestina, 13 (2011), pp. 166-183
Series/Report no.: Slavica Tergestina
13 (2011)
The novel Death and the Dervish (Derviš i smrt, 1966), written by Meša
Selimović (1910–1982), a “Yugoslav” writer from Tuzla (Bosnia), consists
of two parts: the first (the subject of our essay) speaks of the
futility of one man’s resistance against a repressive system (from the
1st to the 9th chapter), and the second talks about the change that takes
place within that man after he becomes a part of that very system
(from the 10th to the 16th chapter).
The main protagonist, Ahmed Nurudin, is the sheikh of a tekke, the
head of a small religious order in a town in Ottoman Bosnia. The dervish,
whose name means “light of the faith”, has deliberately removed
himself from the day-to-day activities of society. At forty, he is a settled
and respected member of the community, until pushed onto a new path
by successive shocks: the arrest of his brother and an encounter with
“Ishak“, a mysterious fugitive, who becomes the interlocutor in the
sheikh’s interior dialogues, after he hides him one night in the monastery.
These events lead dervish to question his previous certainties
and the meaning of “right” and justice, and they also bring him into
conflict with himself and the political authorities .
As Nurudin attempts to find out what has happened to his brother
and to intervene on his behalf, he is drawn into the “Kafkaesque” world
of the Turkish political and religious authorities: he visits the local kadi,
muselim and mufti, trying to effect his release, but each time he meets
with either indifference or threats. The sheikh’s faith in the Ottoman
system gradually weakens until finally he learns that his brother has
been executed. The dervish shows himself to be a profoundly troubled
man, a thinker rather than a doer, ill-equipped for the challenges he has to face. He struggles to find himself and maintain his integrity and
dignity in this hostile political landscape.
The novel also reflects Selimović’s personal experience of the loss
of his older brother, a battalion commander, who was executed without
trial by a partisan firing squad, in 1944. In Death and the Dervish the
author describes the conflict between ideology and life, which leads
the protagonist to feel morally on trial and to bring to trial the people
he encounters, acting now as the accused, now as a witness, now as
the judge.
Nurudin ends up becoming part of the political system himself:
ill-suited to that, he is resigned to his tragic fate. Each chapter of the
novel opens with a quotation from the Koran, the first and the last
being the same: “every man is always at a loss”.
Type: Article
ISSN: 1592-0291
Appears in Collections:Slavica Tergestina 13 (2011)

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