Mehmed Meša Selimović, pronounced [mɛ̌hmɛd mɛ̌ːʃa sɛlǐːmɔʋitɕ], was one of the best writers in former Yugoslavia. His novel “Death and the Dervish” is one of the most important literary works in post-WWII Yugoslavia. His work is a mixture of relations between individuality and authority, life and death and other existential problems.
Mesa was born to a prominent Bosnian bey family on April 26, 1910 in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he graduated from elementary and high school. He enrolled to study the Serbo-Croatian language and literature at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology in 1930 and graduated in 1934. In 1936, he returned to Tuzla to teach in a school that is now named after him. He spent the first two years of World War II in the hometown Tuzla, where he was arrested for participation in the Partisan anti-fascist resistance movement in 1943. After the release, he moved to the liberated territory, became a member of Communist Party of Yugoslavia and the political commissar of Tuzla Detachment of the Partisans. During the WWII, Mesa’s brother was executed by partisans’ firing squad for alleged theft, without a trial. Mesa wrote a letter to defend his brother didn’t help. Meša’s introduction to “Death and the Dervish” was influenced by this event, where the main protagonist Ahmed Nurudin fails to rescue his imprisoned brother.
After the war, he briefly resided in Belgrade, and in 1947 he moved to Sarajevo, where he was the professor of High School of Pedagogy and Faculty of Philology, art director of Bosna Film, chief of the drama section of the National Theater, and chief editor of the publishing house Svjetlost. He moved to Belgrade in 1971, where he lived until his death in 1982.
Selimović began writing fairly late in his life. His first book, a collection of short stories Prva četa (The First Troops/Brigade) was published in 1950 when he was forty. Later he wrote Tišine (Silences, 1961), Tuđa Zemlja (Foreign Land, 1962), Magla i Messalina (Fog and Moonlight, 1965), Ostrvo (The Island, 1974) and posthumously published Krug (The Circle, 1983).
His novel Death and the Dervish (Derviš i Smrt, 1966) was his best recognized work and received as a masterpiece in the West. The plot of the novel takes place in 18th-century Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) under Ottoman rule and describes Mesa’s own torment and guilt he felt about the execution of his brother. He speaks of the futility of one man’s resistance against a repressive system and the changes within him after he becomes a part of that very system. Some critics have compared this novel to Kafka’s “The Trial”. Death and the Dervish has been translated into numerous languages today. Each chapter of the novel opens with a Qur’an citation, the first being: “In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful.”
The Fortress and Death and the Dervish are the only novels of his that have thus far been translated into English and few other languages.
(most of his books are available to purchase in Bosnian and some other languages here)
Uvrijeđeni čovjek (An Offended Man) (1947)
Prva četa (The First Troops/Brigade) (1950)
Tuđa zemlja (The Foreign Land) (1957)
Noć i jutra (The Night and the Mornings) (film scenario) (1958)
Tišine (Silences) (1961)
Magla i mjesečina (Fog and Moonlight) (1965)
Eseji i ogledi (Essays) (1966)
Derviš i smrt (Death and the Dervish) (1966)
Za i protiv Vuka (For and Against Vuk) (1967)
Tvrđava ( The Fortress) (1970) Free/Besplatan download if you’re a member of scribd.com
Ostrvo (The Island) (1974)
Krug (The Circle) (1983)
Sjećanja (The Memories) autobiography