A posthumously published collection of eleven stories written between 1972 and 1974, represents Andrić’s last major creative effort in short fiction. It clearly demonstrates that his prodigious talent was not exhausted in the last years of his life, as some critics suspected. On the one hand “The House on Its Own” is a deeply retrospective work, a rich résumé of Andri ć’s most characteristic and pervasive themes, motifs and character types. Yet it is an innovative work as well, fundamentally different in composition from all of his other prose. This is Andrić’s first attempt to create a “closed” cycle of interconnected stories.
Andrić links the stories explicitly through the narrator-writer whose presence weaves through the entire cycle. In the introduction the writer, allegedly Andrić himself, appears in the first person to define the compositional framework of the collection. He identifies the stories as recollections associated with an eclectic house in Bosnia. The cycle is constructed as a series of ghostly visitations by tormented souls who intrude upon the writer in this setting in order to tell their stories. These alienated beings are familiar figures from Andrić’s literary landscape: ruthless rulers, libertines, social outcasts, dreamers and recluses. Whether the result of a single traumatic experience, hereditary degeneracy, social decay or all-consuming passion, physical and spiritual suffering permeates the universe of Andrić’s fiction? But in the midst of this seemingly hopeless existence, even in pain and degradation, there are moments of ecstasy and release. Andrić’s message in “The House on Its Own” is not pessimistic. It is disquieting and deeply moving yet always life-affirming. Although tormented in life, in death the ghostly visitors receive their due through the cathartic process of storytelling.
“The House on Its Own” is clearly one of Andrić’s most complex and innovative works. It operates in two frames of reference, fictional and metaliterary. For the first time Andrić is baring the artifice of writing fiction and exploring the art of storytelling. These apparitions from the past are not “real” ghosts, but ghosts of imaginary characters explicitly identified as the writer’s own creations. “The House on Its Own” is thus both a final successful endeavor in the genre of the short story as well as a very personal, even autobiographical study of the artist’s craft, a testament to his life and art.
It is a two-storey house on the steep slope of Alifakovac, right near the top, a little distance from any others. On the ground floor, where it was warm in winter and cool in summer, there is a spacious hall, a large kitchen and two small, dark rooms at the back. Upstairs there are three quite large rooms, one of which, the one in the front that looks over the open Sarajevo valley, has a broad balcony. Its size and construction are reminiscent of the Bosnian 'divanhana', but it is not built as they are natural wood, but painted dark green, and its balustrade is not made of round railings, but of flat boards cut as on the balconies of Alpine houses. It was built in the nineties - 1887 to be precise - when local people began to build houses 'according to plan', designed and laid out in Austrian style, and where half-successful in this. Had it been built just half a dozen years earlier, this house would have been built entirely in the old Turkish way, like most of the houses on Alifakovac, and not in the 'German style of the buildings along the banks of the Miljacka. Then the broad entrance hall on the ground floor would have been called an 'ahar' and the balcony a 'divanhana' and the whole thing would not have had this hybrid appearance of a building in which intention and will had gone in one direction towards something new and unknown, and hands, eyes and whole inner being dragged in another, towards the old and customary. The nature and arrangement of the furniture, the colour of the walls, the Viennese chandeliers, of crystal and brass, the earthenware Bosnian stoves, with their ceramic tiles, and locally made rugs in the rooms symbolise that duality. Inside as well as out, one may clearly read the collision of two epochs and the arbitrary mixture of styles, and yet it all blends into the atmosphere of a warm human habitation. It is evident that the people who live in this house do not care much for the external appearance of things, or for their names, but that they know how to take all that those things have to offer for a modest, tranquil and comfortable life to people who care more for life itself than for what may be thought, spoken or written about it. Here things and buildings in their primeval namelessness and perfect modesty simply serve naturally modest and happily nameless people for their few, simple needs. Over it all reigns the kind of peace that we always wish for but rarely achieve in our lives, and that we even often run away from without real need and to our lives, and that we even often run away from without real need and to our own detriment.
It is good to live and work in these Sarajevo houses. A few years ago I spent a whole summer in the one described here. These are my memories of that house and that time. More exactly, they are just some of those memories; ones about which I am able to say something.