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Death and the Dervish

Death and the Dervish

4.7 4
by Mesa Selimovic, Bogdan Rakic (Translator), Stephen M. Dickey (Translator)

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Death and the Dervish is an acclaimed novel by Bosnian writer Mesa Selimovic. It recounts the story of Sheikh Nuruddin, a dervish residing in an Islamic monastery in Sarajevo in the eighteenth century during the Ottoman Turk hegemony over the Balkans. When his brother is arrested, he must descend into the Kafkaesque


Death and the Dervish is an acclaimed novel by Bosnian writer Mesa Selimovic. It recounts the story of Sheikh Nuruddin, a dervish residing in an Islamic monastery in Sarajevo in the eighteenth century during the Ottoman Turk hegemony over the Balkans. When his brother is arrested, he must descend into the Kafkaesque world of the Turkish authorities in his search to discover what happened to him. He narrates his story in the form of an elaborate suicide note, regularly misquoting the Koran. In time, he begins to question his relations with society as a whole and, eventually, his life choices in general. Hugely successful when published in the 1960s, Death and the Dervish is an enduring classic from twentieth-century Yugoslavia. 

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A famous novel...that generates enormous power--worthy of comparison with Selimovic's great countryman and forerunner Ivo Andric." —Kirkus

"If there is any alternative to the bleak despair that permeates Death and the Dervish, it could be found in the solidarity and love between members of a family and friends. This simple message is timely, and badly needed in Bosnia today." —World Literature Today

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Aug.)
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.
Kirkus Reviews
Death And The Dervish ( paper Aug. 1996; 480 pp.; 0-8101-1296-5; paper 0-8101-1297-3): A famous novel, originally published in 1966 in Yugoslavia, by an eminent Bosnian author who died (in 1982) before completing the trilogy it was intended to initiate. It's the strange, legendlike story, set in an indeterminate past that appears to be the 18th century, of a Muslim sheikh (or dervish) whose brother is arrested and presumably executed by occupying Turkish rulers. Sheikh Ahmed Nurudin thereafter dedicates his life to destroying the "government" that took his brother from him—and in so doing sets in motion a maelstrom of deception and revenge that causes him to betray his closest friend and, ultimately, ruins his own life. A slow, digressive, tortuous novel that generates enormous power—worthy of comparison with Selimovi's great countryman and forerunner Ivo Andric. It's by no means a perfect work of art, but there is greatness in it.

Product Details

Northwestern University Press
Publication date:
Writings from an Unbound Europe Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.75(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Mesa Selimovic (1910–1982) was born in Tuzla, Bosnia. A writer of numerous award-winning novels, including The Fortress, he was among the most popular novelists in Yugoslavia.

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Death and the Dervish 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have no idea what the previous reviewer is talking about. If he has some political agenda to work out, a book review might not be the best place to do that. Dervish and the death is a unique book in the ways that it has nothing to do with time and place it describes. It¿s a masterpiece psychological drama that chronicles moral struggle of a man torn between everything he was thought to believe and follow and what he feels. This is a book about the price we all have to pay when we try to ignore our feelings and moral values in exchange for conformity. Dervish and the death transcends time and space and it¿s uniquely universal. In addition, it is a literal masterpiece. The sentences create a strange music of their own, that grips you until the last page. You will remember this book long after you finish it. This is one truly exceptional book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book itself is great. Accurate portrayal of the sentiments in Bosnia during the Ottoman rule and a high literary standard. I am somewhat puzzled by the introduction. As a reader I am lead to believe that the works should be regarded as some kind of a Serbian great contribution to Bosnia/culture/literature. Given that the translation took place during the last conflict in the Balkans it is highly unlikely that anyone in their right mind can be convinced of `Serbian tolerance¿ referred to at the beginning of the book. Selimovic may have sympathised with the Serbian rebellious tendencies at the time but if anything, this novel should be a praize to the writer¿s critical view of his own nation (he was after all a Bosnian Muslim although wrote `Serbian national¿ as it was fashionable if not necessary to be either a Croat or a Serb at the time), rather than a reflection of Serbian alleged quest for justice. Rather arrogant and irresponsible to present the first ever English translation of this masterpiece in such a light. And what an insult to the Bosnian peoples. Skip the intro and read on the novel for what it really is ¿ just a great Bosnian novel written by a great Bosnian visionary.
Mitan_B More than 1 year ago
Exceptional book. Must read. The book that took my breath away.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book, mainly very difficult to understand without the knowledge of colorful history in that part of the Balkans. Therefore read it once more than you think is necessary. The author indeed described some political moments since his brother was jailed and died under new communist regime in Yugoslavia.And Dervish is dedicated to the writer's brother. As for comment of 'introductory remarks' Selimovic refered to his Serbian etnicity because his predecessors indeed were Serbs 'Vujovic family from Bileca' who changed their religino and last name .