The Fortress

Mesa Selimovic, Author, Jasna Levinger, Translator, Edward Dennis Goy, Translator Northwestern University Press $66 (406p) ISBN 978-0-8101-1712-9
A native of the former Yugoslavia, Selimovic is of Muslim descent and writes in Serbo-Croatian. Delving deep into the Bosnian past in this dense historical novel, he charts the 18th-century adventures of narrator Ahmet Shabo, who returns with a heavy heart to Sarajevo from the battle of Chocim, in Russia. Discovering that almost all of his family has died of the plague, Ahmet first works for Mula Ibrahim, a clerk he rescued in battle. The disaffected ex-soldier loses the job when he insults a powerful man at a party, but luckily, he has married a Christian orphan who is as hardworking as she is beautiful. While she makes money, Ahmet idles around Sarajevo and ponders his own fate and that of his countrymen. Ahmet's perspective gives Selimovic a perfect opportunity to describe the Ottoman-ruled Sarajevo of 300 hundred years ago, riven then, as it is today, with hidden feuds and power politics. One of Ahmet's comrades from Chocim, student Ramiz, stirs up trouble by speaking out in the mosque against the wealthy and powerful. For this he is imprisoned in the formidable fortress of the title. Ahmet goes to a rich man, Shehaga, to plead his friend's case, and for reasons of his own, Shehaga and his dashing steward, Osman Vuk, arrange a raid upon the prison, freeing Ramiz. Ahmet is then trapped in a conspiracy of silence with Osman and Shehaga, while the serder-Avdaga, a self-appointed law enforcer and scourge of God, sniffs out the truth. Although there are some powerful scenes, American readers may not appreciate Selimovic's glacial pace. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Paperback - 406 pages - 978-0-8101-1713-6
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