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A short biography of Ivo Andrić

 (Courtesy of the Regional Museum of Travnik)

There is much confusion regarding Ivo Andrić's biography, starting with the place and date of his birth. One can often come across in books and encyclopedias that he was born on October 9th, 1892, not in Travnik, but in a nearby village Gornji Dolac, or in Sarajevo, Višegrad, Belgrade... There are even notes of him being born on a train near Travnik, in the period in which there were no railroads!

On October 9th, 1892, the 70th vicar Juraj Pušek of the Catholic Church St. John the Baptist in Travnik, wrote down the following in the Birth record of the Christened: in the street of Zenjak, Ivan Andrić, the son of Antun and Katarina Andrić, was born.

In 1894, when Ivo Andrić was two years old, his father, who worked as a janitor in the local court, died. Since they were quite poor and without assets, his mother sent him to stay with her late husbands’ sister Ana Matkovšik in Višegrad. Thus, Ivo Andrić spent his childhood in the town on the river Drina, where he finished elementary school and obtained impressions and memories he later referred to asVišegrad trail.

Later, he received a scholarship from HKD Napredak in Sarajevo, where he continued living with his mother in the street of Bistrik, where he studied at a Grammar School. During that period, he began to write poetry. He published his first poem In the twilight, in 1911, in local newspapers Bosanska Vila.

Sponsored by the same society, he went on to study philosophy, history, and philology in Zagreb, Vienna, and Krakow, never ceasing to write poetry and short stories. In 1924, while working as a diplomatic clerk in Austria, he obtained his PhD at the University of Graz, with a thesis entitled Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under Turkish Rule. An interesting fact about his dissertation is that, all his life he was refusing to publish or translate this thesis (originally written in German) without giving any explanations.

Ivo Andrić came back to his hometown, for the first time, on March 22nd 1915, during the First World War. Several months prior to this, on July 29th 1914, he was arrested in Split under accusation of being a part of the movement Mlada Bosna and an acquaintance of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The Austrian-Hungarian regime sent Andrić to prison in Šibenik (by a ferry symbolically called Višegrad, the same one he would travel by later as a diplomat) and then to Maribor. Due to the insufficient evidence, he was not convicted, but was identified as politically dangerous and confined to house arrest in his hometown, where he had no right to his house of birth, and no relatives. He spent his exile at the foot of the mountain Vlašić, in the village of Ovčarevo, near Travnik, where he stayed in the Vicar’s office, at the Catholic Church of St. Michael. He started writing his first work there, Ex Ponto and often visited the Franciscan monastery in Guča Gora near Travnik, spending the rest of his exile with the Franciscans in Zenica. Because of the comfort they provided him, minors remained one of his favorites.

Suffering from tuberculosis, he received treatment at the Sisters of Mercy hospital in Zagreb, in Krapina, and on several Dalmatian islands and towns. In 1918, he published his first book of poetry Ex Ponto, in Zagreb, while his second book of poetry Anxieties, along with his first short story Journey of Alija Đerzelez, were published in Belgrade.

Due to his knowledge of foreign languages (as a schoolboy in Sarajevo, he saved from his modest allowance in order to attend classes of French and German, which helped him to learn five more languages) and impressive education, he joined the diplomatic service in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1920. In the next 20 years, he was working as a diplomat in: Vatican, Italy, Romania, Austria, France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.

He was the last Yugoslavian ambassador in Berlin during the Nazi regime. Later on, he wrote about the Berlin years as the most obnoxious period of his life, because, although a diplomat, he was exposed to numerous humiliations, both from the Nazis and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade. During his diplomatic career, he wrote and published numerous short stories on Bosnia and Herzegovina under Turkish and Austrian-Hungarian rule.

Andrić came back to Belgrade on June 1st 1941. The Nazis offered him to go to neutral Switzerland, but he refused to abandon his fellow diplomats with whom he came back to Yugoslavia on a special train. Living in extreme isolation and completely withdrawn, he spent the whole Second World War in Belgrade, in the flat of his friend Brane Milenković. It is well known that he strongly opposed every form of collaboration both with the enemies and with quisling regime. During the war years, Andrić wrote his most important works such as Travnik Chronicle, The Bridge on the Drina and The Woman from Sarajevo, all published in 1945.

Between 1945 and 1950, he was representative in the National Assembly of Yugoslavia on behalf of Travnik County. All the money he earned during that service he gave to his hometown. He also performed other social duties and activities, such as the President of Writers’ Society of Yugoslavia. At the same time, he wrote and published new books, titled The Damned Yard and The Vizier’s Elephant.

On December 10th he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming thus the first and last Nobel Prize winner from ex-Yugoslavia. He donated all the Nobel Prize money for the improvements of libraries in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1958, at the age of 66, he married Milica Babić, who was a costume designer in The National Theater in Belgrade. She died suddenly in their house in Herceg-Novi in 1968. After her death, he never came back to that house, giving it away to the town of Herceg-Novi, wishing it to be redecorated into a kindergarten. They had no children.

On October 15th 1972 he visited the town of Travnik for the last time, and the occasion was his 80th birthday. In 1974, his birth-house in Travnik was reconstructed, for the purpose of a new museum dedicated to his life’s work.

He died in Belgrade, on March 13th 1975. According to his wishes, he was cremated and the urn with his ashes remains in the Alley of the Greats in the new cemetery in Belgrade. He wrote 17 books, translated into 49 languages, published around the world making him the most translated writer from the former Yugoslavia.

He was a member of The Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Yugoslavian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he received honoris causa in Sarajevo and Krakow; he never used these titles in his private or public life. He also received the highest state medals in Poland, France and Yugoslavia.

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