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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Death and the Dervish

Meša Selimović

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To purchase Death and the Dervish

Title: Death and the Dervish
Author: Meša Selimović
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1996)
Length: 464 pages
Original in: Serbo-Croatian
Availability: Death and the Dervish - US
Death and the Dervish - UK
Death and the Dervish - Canada
Le derviche et la mort - France
Der Derwisch und der Tod - Deutschland
Il derviscio e la morte - Italia
  • Serbo-Croatian title: Derviš i smrt
  • Translated by Bogadan Rakic and Stephen M. Dickey
  • Introduction by Henry M. Cooper, Jr.

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Our Assessment:

A : a spectacular though unusual achievement

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Criterion A+ 5/2000 Stephen Schwartz
World Lit. Today B Spring/1997 Dragan Milivojevic
Die Zeit . 20/4/1973 Eckart Kleßmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Selimovic refined the technique of the internal monologue, crafting a limpid discourse that makes his Dervish an exquisite poem in prose, if not a literal representation of the higher means of expression to which the Sufis aspire. (...) His work is obviously the best available for foreign comprehension of Bosnian Muslim identity, in the past and present, as well as in the future." - Stephen Schwartz, The New Criterion

  • "The novel speaks to contemporary readers with all the force of their twentieth-century sufferings and travails, and that is its valuable message." - Dragan Milivojevic, World Literature Today

  • "Der durchschlagende Erfolg des Romans in Jugoslawien beruhte einerseits auf seiner meisterhaften Sprache, zum anderen auf seinem gleichnishaften Charakter. Man kann ihn -- mit aktuellem Hintersinn -- lesen als Parabel von der Konfrontation des zweifelnden Intellektuellen mit der Macht." - Eckart Kleßmann, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Readers limited to English had to wait some three decades until they too could share in Mesa Selimovic's masterpiece, a sad and sorry state of affairs. It is, admittedly, an unusual work, big and often seemingly uneventful, but the lustre of this gem was recognized in other countries long before.
       Set in Sarajevo during the time of the Ottoman rule (no exact date is specified, though the 17th or 18th centuries seem most likely) the novel is a fascinating portrait of that society -- and an interesting reflection of 20th century Yugoslavia. The story is of bureaucracy and betrayal and Muslim (and Communist) society, carefully, even sparsely written (though there are many pages to it) Its unusual characters and setting -- in a Muslim world that is foreign to us and rarely so well depicted in fiction of our or any time -- and Selimovic's masterly writing make this an eminently worthwhile book.
       Narrated by the dervish of the title, Sheik Ahmed Nuruddin, the main thrust of the novel centers around his efforts to free his brother, who has been arrested and sentenced to death. His crime is never specified, and the all-powerful (indeed, totalitarian) authorities the dervish faces are Kafkaesque. The dervish, a figure whirling at the edge of both the religious and political worlds of the time (in each of which he plays a role), is forced to compromise himself in his efforts to free his brother, destroying his best friend's life -- as well as his own, in many respects.
       Though much of the story seems obscure, Selimovic's masterly hand guides the reader, and entertains throughout. Life's bigger questions are pondered, but rarely is the tone itself ponderous.
       The setting of the novel is also not a common one, and Selimovic's novel strikes one as a more authentic account of the Muslim-Ottoman world than can otherwise be found. The book would be valuable alone for this picture it paints.

       A somewhat philosophical tome, carefully told, it is still riveting. Highly recommended, though with the warning that it is a big and in some respects slow book for which some readers will not have the necessary patience.

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Death and the Dervish: Reviews: Other books by Meša Selimović under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bosnian author Meša Selimović (1910-1982) was one of the greatest authors of the former Yugoslavia.

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