The Pasha's Concubine

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“The Pasha’s Concubine” (1926) is the story of a young girl who catches the eye of a Turkish army officer and is summoned to his house. She appeals to him because of her extreme youth – she is not quite sixteen and the reason he gives for finding this stage attractive establishes one of the themes of the story: “This is the right moment in her life. She was separated from her family, frightened, alone, dependent entirely on him. From time to time she seemed to him like a little animal, which, driven against a cliff, stared at him wide-eyed aand trembling.” The woman’s vulnerability acts as a provocation, a magnet drawing the stronger element by logic of its own.  In the story the concubine herself are woven two further tales of victimization of woman, so that together they form a complete statement of the plight of woman as an innocent victim. The theme of the pursuit of a wild animal is developed in the subsidiary account of the rape of a ten-year-old, lured out of town by two youths with a promise of sugar. And in the household where Mara ends her days one of the women has a violent husband who has beaten her regularly since their wedding night.

The story of Mara the concubine is developed, as is that of Mustafa Magyar, in such a way as to make them not only vivid individuals in specific circumstances, but also in a way archetypal.

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translated by Joseph Hitrec, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London, 1969


In the forenoon of the second day, as he was returning from the drill field, the Pasha and his escort found themselves in the bazaar. They rode cautiously over the thawing ice. It was a market day, and in front of the Garić Bakery their way was blocked by some peasants' horses laden with wood. While the flustered farmers began to hop and skip around the stubborn horses, the Pasha cast a glance into the bakery. Next to the closed brick oven stood the old baker Ali, stoop-shouldered, with rheumy, wizened eyes out of which tears kept oozing on his great white mustache. At the wide-open shopwindow, among the bread loaves and pans of meat and pies, was his daughter Mara. On her knees and propped on the counter with one arm, she had stretched the other for a platter on a shelf underneath. When she heard the shouts of the soldiers and the stamping of the peasants' horses, she lifted her head, and the Pasha, seeing her wrapped like this around the counter, fell in love with her round, childish face and her merry eyes.

When he rode that way again in the afternoon, the bakery was deserted, the window half-shuttered, and on the sill was a purring cat with signed white hair.

He gave orders that the girl be found and brought to him. The noncommissioned officers and town constables ran eagerly to carry them out. He stayed over till noon of the third day, when they reported that the matter could be arranged. The girl had no one except her father. Her mother had been well-known Jelka, named Hafizadić after the old Mustaybey Hafizadić, who had kept her for several years and then married her off to this Garić, a quiet and simple-minded young man, to whom he had also given money to open the bakery.

The Pasha left some money and entrusted the matter to his old acquaintance Teskeredžić. And toward the end of March, on another market day, they brought the girl to him at Sarajevo.

The Pasha had not been wring in his judgment. She was the kind of woman he had always sought and particularly esteemed, the only kind that still attracted him. She was not quite sixteen. She had big eyes of a dovelike shade and muted porcelain luster, which moved languidly. Her hair was quite fair, heavy, and thick, such as was seldom seen on women in this region. Both her face and her arms were covered with a fine, light down that was noticeable only in sunlight. What was unusual about her was that even those parts of her skin which were not exposed to the sun and air, were not uniformly white and dun, as is usual with blonde women, but her whole body glowed with a bright, burnished hue that changed only in the shadowy hollows or with a sudden and irregular onrush of blood, when it turned even richer. Her hands were perfectly childlike, short and pink.

The Pasha was buoyed up. In the first few days he was occupied only with her. He also found it pleasant to think that now too, as once before, he could tell by an outstretched hand the kind of woman her owner was, and her true worth. Had he brought her in earlier, it would have been no good; while three to  four months later, it seemed to him, the bloom would have been over. This was exactly the right time. She was cut off from her own kin, frightened and isolated, dependent only on him. At times she appeared to him like a young animal which, driven to the edge of a precipice, quivers in her whole body, her pupils contracting. This fanned the passion of his love and, in the contradictory ways of the male heart, evoked in him the impulse to be generous, to make her happy, to protect her.

She lived not far from the Pasha's residence, in a separate cottage which he had rented and furnished. Except for her visits to the Pasha, she went nowhere and received no visitors, save for Hamša the Gypsy, who kept house for her, and baba Anuša from Bistrik, who was distantly related to her and who lived with her two grandchildren in great poverty. She spent all her days in two poorly lighted rooms, doing those sundry little chores that are so inconspicuous and yet so easily fill a woman's day. At dusk the Pasha's equerry would come for her, and she would wrap and veil herself up to her eyes and then, with a bowed head, accompany him to the Residence.

In the beginning, after they had just brought her from Travnik, she felt utterly lost. Physical pain took complete hold of her; and it was only when this pain, after the first few nights, began to fade that there arose in her mind, like a torment, a vague yet dark and nagging thought of sin and shame. She was afraid of the Pasha, she loathed that Jewess of his, Sarah, and shied away from daylight and from people. She could not sleep, yet even in her dreams felt herself damned.

Nevertheless, she gradually came to terms with Sarah, who was taciturn and good and who did her work and helped in everything with a kind of melancholy friendliness. Getting accustomed to the Pasha and his caresses was harder; even after the initial pain and fear had faded, she accepted those numbly, in childlike bewilderment. But after a while she began to get used to them. She grew especially fond of the smell of his skin. It was seldom that she could look into those unusually steady eyes without a certain timidity, or into that face with its dreadful patch of blight on the left cheek and its dark drooping mustache that was always a little damp and quivered when he spoke like tufted grass in a dark forest pond. But the waftings that his body sent out attracted her more and more, they thrilled and delighted her; and she inhaled them for hours with her eyes closed, her head resting on his chest or in the palm of his hand.

The anguish came back to haunt her only at night when, as it often happened, he sent her to sleep alone. She would then wake up several times with a clear realization-such as can only come in the dark-of what and who she was now, and with a mouth choked with sobs she would press her face between the quilt and the pillows and stammer:


In the darkness, the racking thought would assume the shape of eternal punishment and hellish torture, not of earthly shame and ruin as in the daytime. But the next evening she would again face the Pasha with blushing cheeks and a wordless smile that seemed to be made entirely of glistening white teeth and sparkling eyes.

So it went every evening. He would come from an army exercise, or from a ride, flushed and a little sweaty, and she would wait for him with her hands crossed on her breast. he would then undress; Sarah would bring cold water, and a maid would take away his boots. After he had washed and cooled off, he would ask them to open the door and all windows that commanded a view of Sarajevo and the Trebević mountain. he would sit like this in the cool draft until Sarah brought a bottle of mastika and a tray of olives and thin strips of bread. alter the equerry Salih would come in with the nargileh on which the lighted tobacco heap would smolder a dark red, while in its crystal bottle, on the limped surface of water, there would float two crimson cherries. Then Sarah and the equerry would vanish, and from an adjoining room Mara would return, prepared, and sit on his lap. Between the two of them, this was called "sitting in the box".