Meša Selimović

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Meša Selimović
Meša Selimović on a 2010 Serbian stamp
Meša Selimović on a 2010 Serbian stamp
Born(1910-04-26)26 April 1910
Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary
Died11 July 1982(1982-07-11) (aged 72)
Belgrade, SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia
Resting placeBelgrade New Cemetery
OccupationWriter, professor, art director
Alma materUniversity of Belgrade
Notable worksDeath and the Dervish (1966)
SpouseDraga (d. 1999)
ChildrenDaughters Maša and Jesenka

Mehmed "Meša" Selimović (pronounced [mɛ̌xmɛd mɛ̌ːʃa sɛlǐːmɔʋitɕ]; Serbian Cyrillic: Мехмед Меша Селимовић; 26 April 1910 – 11 July 1982) was a Yugoslav writer, whose novel Death and the Dervish is one of the most important literary works in post-Second World War Yugoslavia.[1] Some of the main themes in his works are the relations between individuality and authority, life and death, and other existential problems.


Selimović was born to a prominent Muslim family of Bosnian Serb origin[2] on 26 April 1910 in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he graduated from elementary school and high school. In 1930, he enrolled to study the Serbo-Croatian language and literature at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology and graduated in 1934. His lecturers included Bogdan Popović, Pavle Popović, Vladimir Ćorović, Veselin Čajkanović, Aleksandar Belić and Stjepan Kuljbakin.[3] In 1936, he returned to Tuzla to teach in the gymnasium that today bears his name. At that time he participated in the Soko athletic organisation.[3] He spent the first two years of the Second World War in Tuzla, until he was arrested for participation in the Partisan anti-fascist resistance movement in 1943. After his release, he moved to liberated territory, became a member of Communist Party of Yugoslavia and the political commissar of the Tuzla Detachment of the Partisans. During the war, Selimović's brother, also a communist, was executed by partisans' firing squad for alleged theft, without trial; Selimović's letter in defense of the brother was to no avail. That episode apparently affected Meša's later contemplative introduction to Death and the Dervish, where the main protagonist Ahmed Nurudin fails to rescue his imprisoned brother.[4]

After the war, he briefly resided in Belgrade, and in 1947 he moved to Sarajevo, where he was the professor of High School of Pedagogy and Faculty of Philology, art director of Bosna Film, chief of the drama section of the National Theater, and chief editor of the publishing house Svjetlost. Exasperated by a latent conflict with several local politicians and intellectuals, in 1971 he moved to Belgrade, where he lived until his death in 1982.[5] In his 1976 letter to the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, Selimović stated for the historical record that he regarded himself as a Serb and belonging to the corpus of Serbian literature.[6][7][8][9] In his autobiography, Sjećanja, Selimović states that his paternal ancestry is from the Orthodox Christian Vujović brotherhood of the Drobnjak clan, his ancestor having converted to Islam in the 17th century for pragmatic reasons, given the presence of the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the area at the time.[10][11] Selimović was a member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.[12]


Selimović began writing fairly late in his life. His first short story (Pjesma u oluji / A song in the storm) was published in 1948, when he was thirty-six.[13] His first book, a collection of short stories Prva četa (The First Company) was published in 1950 when he was forty. His subsequent work, Tišine (Silences) was published eleven years later in 1961. The following books Tuđa zemlja (Foreign land, 1962) and Magla i mjesečina (Mist and Moonlight, 1965) did not receive widespread recognition either.[14]

However, his novel Death and the Dervish (Derviš i smrt, 1966) was widely received as a masterpiece. The plot of the novel takes place in 18th-century Sarajevo under Ottoman rule, and reflects Selimović's own torment of the execution of his brother; the story speaks of the futility of one man's resistance against a repressive system, and the change that takes place within that man after he becomes a part of that very system. Some critics have likened this novel to Kafka's The Trial. It has been translated into many languages, including English, Russian, German, French, Italian, Turkish and Arabic.[15] Each chapter of the novel opens with a Qur'an citation, the first being: "In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful."[14]

The next novel, Tvrđava (The Fortress, 1970), placed still further in the past, is slightly more optimistic, and fulfilled with faith in love, unlike the lonely contemplations and fear in Death and the Dervish. The Fortress and Death and the Dervish are the only novels of Selimović that have thus far been translated into English. Subsequent novels Ostrvo (The Island, 1974), featuring an elderly couple facing aging and eventual death on a Dalmatian island, and posthumously published Krug (The Circle, 1983), have not been translated into English.

He also wrote a book about Vuk Karadžić's orthographic reforms Za i protiv Vuka (For and Against Vuk),[16] as well as his autobiography, Sjećanja.


Plaque at his former home in Belgrade
  • Uvrijeđeni čovjek (An Insulted Man) (1947)
  • Prva četa (The First Company) (1950)
  • Tuđa zemlja (Foreign Lands) (1957)
  • Sjećanja (Memories) (1957)
  • Noći i jutra (Nights and Days) (film scenario) (1958)
  • Tišine (Silence) (1961)
  • Magla i mjesečina (Mist and Moonlight) (1965)
  • Eseji i ogledi (Essays and Reflections) (1966)
  • Derviš i smrt (Death and the Dervish) (1966)
  • Za i protiv Vuka (Pro et Contra Vuk) (1967)
  • Tvrđava (The Fortress) (1970)
  • Ostrvo (The Island) (1974)
  • Krug (The Circle) (1983)

Translations into English[edit]

  • Death and the Dervish, 1996, Northwestern University Press, ISBN 0-8101-1297-3
  • The Fortress, 1999, Northwestern University Press, ISBN 0-8101-1713-4


  1. ^ Mala eciklopedija Prosveta: opšta enciklopedija, 1986, Prosveta, Beograd, ISBN 86-07-00001-2.(in Serbo-Croatian)[page needed]
  2. ^ "МЕША СЕЛИМОВИЋ: Моји су преци из Билеће од братства Вујовића". Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b Meša Selimović. Derviš i smrt. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike. p. 7.
  4. ^ Božena Jelušić (edited by Terrice Bassler). Hard Waking Up (from Learning to Change: the experience of transforming education in South East Europe). Central European University Press.[page needed]
  5. ^ "Meša Selimović". Feniks magazine.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Sto godina od rođenja Meše Selimovića". Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  7. ^ "ПИСМО МЕШЕ СЕЛИМОВИЋА САНУ, КОЈИМ ПОТВРЂУЈЕ ДА ЈЕ СРБИН". Archived from the original on 31 May 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  8. ^ "Ćerke velikog Meše Selimovića žive u Beogradu: Bosnu nose samo u sećanjima!". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  9. ^ Večernje Novosti: Pronašao mir u Beogradu, Dragan BOGUTOVIĆ, 9 July 2010 (in Serbian)
  10. ^ "Порекло писца Мехмеда Меше Селимовића". Poreklo. 30 March 2016.
  11. ^ Selimović, Meša (2002). Sjećanja, memoarska proza. Belgrade: BOOK-MARSO.
  12. ^ Meša SELIMOVIĆ Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  13. ^ Mirko Skakić. Rano djelo Meše Selimovića. Banja Luka: Novi glas. pp. 43, 67.
  14. ^ a b Jovan Deretić. "Кратка историја српске књижевности" (in Serbo-Croatian). Project Rastko. Archived from the original on 28 March 2009.
  15. ^ Mirko Skakić. Rano djelo Meše Selimovića. Banja Luka: Novi glas. pp. 92–95.
  16. ^

External links[edit]