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Death and the Dervish (Writings from an Unbound Europe) Paperback – August 14, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lauded by the publisher for its contribution to understanding "the current crisis" in the former Yugoslavia, this tale of moral failure takes place at some undefined point during the Ottoman occupation of Muslim Bosnia. It was a bestseller when published in Yugoslavia in 1966, but it seems probable that its popularity lay more in its portrayal of a Yugoslavia oppressed than in any intrinsic artistry. Ahmed, the dervish of the title, has lived in religious seclusion for most of his life; his searching, self-centered and at times deranged internal dialogue constitutes most of this lengthy narrative. Selimovic (The Island; The Fortress) portrays a man hopelessly out of touch with himself and others, viciously in need of being right, secretly coveting power for himself. Groveling before authority, he knowingly betrays innocent people, yet rationalizes everything with perverted interpretations of the Koran. His brother's death, towards the beginning of the novel, and the near-destruction of the community's purest and most generous soul, by the end, enclose a tortuous psychological exposition of the perils of delusion and the ease with which fear destroys the most unyielding moral good. It is a probing portrait containing some valuable insights, yet with a character as insipid as Ahmed, it is hard to really care.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Sheikh Ahmed Nuruddin is a dervish (an Islamic ascetic) and spiritual leader of a community during the Turkish occupation of Bosnia. Having spent most of his adult years deliberately avoiding the turmoil of everyday life, he finds himself sucked into its vortex by the arrest of his brother. His reluctant investigation into the matter brings him face to face with his own moral cowardice and causes a devastating crisis of faith that calls into question the value of his entire life. Originally published in Yugoslavia in the 1960s, and subsequently translated into several languages, this late author's chef-d'oeuvre is highly recommended both for Eastern European collections as well as any collection of serious fiction.?Sister M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Writings from an Unbound Europe (Book 6474574537)
  • Paperback: 473 pages
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press; Translated edition (August 14, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810112973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810112971
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book contains a lot. It is by no means easily read - it feels like the private reflections of a tormented man - but I've read few books, if any, that go deeper into some rather dark and unpleasant territory. Through the friendship of a man who has retreated from the world and one who has chosen to confront it, it explores the distance between ideals and reality.
One thing that struck me was the universality of the writing; despite being grounded in a very particular place and time, the ideas seemed in no way constrained by the society in which it was based. For this reason the discussion in these reviews on Selimovic's national affiliations - or lack of the same - took me by surprise. I lack the knowledge to contribute to this discussion, but the passage in pp.407-9 where Hassan likens the Bosnian people to Jemail read very much like an author's message.
Irrespective of this, I can't recommend the book enough. It offers some powerful insights into areas rarely explored successfully.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By on November 10, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Human transformation is one of the great motifs of modern literature. A particularly important example of such transformation is the development of willpower in a character, such that he overcomes whatever potent inner forces had previously restrained his actions. Examples of this abound: think of such characters as Hamlet, Stephen Dedalus, and Raskolnikov.
"Death and the Dervish" describes one such personal revolution, told from the perspective of the narrator, Ahmed Nuruddin, a sheikh at a tekke (a Muslim monastery) in Turk-occupied Bosnia. Nuruddin is a simple, contempletive, and wise character, akin to Alyosha Karamazov, whose asceticism is shattered by the mysterious and unexplained arrest and execution of his brother. Through the novel, Nuruddin broods in regret, lamenting that he might have missed an opportunity to save his brother's life. Finally, in an existential revenge scene of monumental drama and terrifying meaning, Nuruddin overcomes the restraints of his ascetic psyche and avenges his brother's death. The book ends in an unpredictable yet inevitable moment of horror--a horror so beautiful and exquisite that I had to reread the final paragraphs several times before the chills left my back.
The profound message of "Death in the Dervish" is existential at a certain level, in that it strips the characters of essential meaning and allows them to define themselves. The non-existential underlying theme, however, which frighteningly explains many events of the twentieth century, is the notion that humans are inherently evil. Not good, as a theist would believe. Not neutral as an existentialist would argue. But evil.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
After all of these reviews that I have just found here, there is no sense of talking about the characters of this great book, but I would like to write some things that maybe not all readers know. Mesa Selimovic was born in Tuzla, Bosnien and Herzegovina, same like me. My high-school name was Mesa Selimovic and I am very proud of it. The messages from "Dervis i smrt" are universal, but they are also the picture of bosnian tradition and society, and the most important fact - they represent the mirror of bosnian soul. If you want to learn something more about Bosnia, its people and history, than you should read this book. As a Bosnian I can't think of a better book. And I don't think that it's bad to say that Selimovic was Bosnian (according to Mazedonian reader ), because he was. It was not mentioned in the review was he a Croat, Muslim, or Serb, and it doesn't matter. I think that we after all that happened in my homeland at least have right to say that we are Bosnians without mentioning the nationality. Bosnia is home for all of us. Don't denial this right to Selimovic.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Few days ago I finished my fourth reading of this book and I experienced exactly the same mixed feelings I had after my first reading.I was sad to witness such a human tragedy and I was happy because in this book I found a real treausure of human mind. Even though located in the Balkans dark age the story still sends a universal human mesagge where philosophical exsistence of good and evil live in eternal confrontation. The final sentence (...death is nonsense,the same as life) rather than lament sounds to me as an invitation for reflection about our existentialism and values we blindly follow and promote today. Finally, with all respect to the people who translated the book I find myself extremely lucky being able to read this book in its original version in bosnian language which is obviouslu much more authentic and colourful. P.S. I would not like to open a political debate in this place but I found the Cyprys' reader final comment about Selimovic's "Serb's" background extremely offensive, inaccurate and inappropriate. By the way, the biographic data about Selimovic, that I as a Bosnian know , are completely different but I have no intention to place his genius in a shadow of political triviality.
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