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American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

Narrative and Narrative Structure in Ivo Andri's Devil's Yard Author(s): Mary P. Coote Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 56-63 Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/306734 . Accessed: 24/02/2011 11:08
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Mary P. Coote, University of California at Berkeley

For a long time I was baffledby what was happening aroundme. But immediately to late in life I havecometo the conclusion it is vain and mistaken look for sense that in the meaningless, seeminglyso significant but events that take place aroundus; form arounda insteadwe shouldlook for sense in those layerswhichthe centuries few of man'smore important legends.These layers constantlyrepeat,though ever the less accurately, shapeof that kernelof trutharoundwhich they form, and thus it The they transmit over the centuries. truehistoryof man is in fairy tales;one can sensein them,if not fully discover, meaning.l its The idea that traditional legends convey the outlines of truth, voiced here by Ivo Andric's figure of the artist Goya, is a recurrent theme in Andric's works, especially those set in Bosnia under Turkish rule. His Bosnian characters have a rare gift for telling stories that are, in the words of an Oriental proverb, "lies that are more true than truth."2 His Bosnian tales abound in scenes of story telling and allusions to tales current among the folk. But his approach to the traditional narrative of Bosnia is not simply descriptive. He also attempts to demonstrate in his own literary fiction the process by which legends form in significant patterns to reveal a kernel of truth within. Andric conveys a sense of legend in creation by allowing the events of his stories to be refracted through a series of tellers,3 each of whom wraps another layer around an original kernel of putative reality. Reality is often set in the distant past, and a chronicler's account of actual events is juxtaposed with legends created by the retelling of history over the generations.4 In the novella Devil's Yard legend is formed synchronically as well as diachronically: a multiplicity of characters serve as narrators through whom the story is revealed and whose tellings take place almost simultaneously in the narrative present. The principal narrator of Devil's Yard is Brother Petar, a Bosnian Franciscan with a remarkable talent for both lively and sensitive story-telling and tolerant and sympathetic listening-talents which sustain him through his arbitrary imprisonment in an Istanbul detention center known as the "accursed courtyard" (prokleta avlija) or "Devil's Yard." Brother Petar recounts chiefly what he has heard from others during 56 SEEJ, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1977)

Ivo Andric's Devil's Yard


his travels. The kernel of truth in Devil's Yard, a bit of fifteenth-century Turkish history, thus comes to the reader at fourth hand: it is the story of Dzem, an aspirant to the sultan's throne, told by the Turk Camil to his fellow prisoner Brother Petar; towards the end of his life Brother Petar gives an account of his acquaintance with Camil to a younger monk, who is presented in his turn to the reader as he recalls the stories of the late Brother Petar. In addition to these story tellers in the Devil's Yard there is also Haim, a Jew from Camil's native city of Smyrna, who tells Brother Petar most of what he learns about Camil's life before and during his imprisonment. In the background we hear a motley chorus of prisoners-Zaim and his companions-spinning yarns while doing time. Although the entire narrative is presented through the eyes of one or another of the character narrators, Andric does not let his characters tell their tales freely. In Devil's Yard (though not in all the stories about Brother Petar) only key passages appear in the words of any of the tellerseven dialogue is usually summarized in the third person.5 An author narrator, firmly in control of the Babel in the Devil's Yard, interposes himself between the characters and the reader, retelling in neutral and orderly style what the character said and commenting on how he said it. For example,
This is how Camil-efendi'shistory appeared, as far as Haim could know and observe it, but given here briefly, without Haim's repetitions and comments and numerous interjectionsof "E? A!" 6

In contrast to the character narrators, the author narrator enjoys what be called editorial omniscience.7 As he relays the characters' stories, may he uses the privilege of shifting points of view, flashing back or jumping forward in time, and entering into and elucidating their feelings. He takes a broader view of human life than the characters, speaks in philosophical generalizations, interprets behavior, and underlines the universal significance of particular events of the story. For instance, when Brother Petar unexspectedly encounters Camil after a long separation the author explains and generalizes his feelings:
That is how it usually happens. Those whom we wish to see do not come at moments when we are thinking of them and most expecting them, but they appear at some moment when we are farthest from them in our thoughts. And it takes time for our joy at seeing them again to rise from the depths where it has been submerged and to show itself on the surface. (89.)

Such parenthetical pronouncements on behalf of mankind punctuate the narratives throughout Devil's Yard. The unmistakable presence of an author who mediates between the characters' narratives and the reader serves to deny omniscience to the ostensible narrators and to undermine the validity of their words. None of


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the narrators are credited with knowing the truth. Each is made to seem unreliable,8 perhaps even more than a little mad-thanks to the effect of the prison-madhouse setting on all its inmates, even Brother Petar. Significantly, Camil and Brother Petar are allowed to narrate in the first person exactly at those times when they have nearly lost their sanity; they thus communicate most directly with the reader at their least reliable moments. In the case of Haim, the prime source of Brother Petar's knowledge of 0amil, the author even points out that he could not know all that he reports:
In his passion to tell and explain all, to reveal all of men's errors and crimes, to expose the evil men and to acclaim the good, he went far beyond what an ordinary normal person could see or find out. Scenes which took place between two persons without witnesses he could describe down to incredible details and particulars.And he not only portrayed the people he spoke about; he entered into their thoughts and desires, often into thoughts and desires they themselves were not aware of, which he broughtto light. He spoke from inside them. (62.)

This editorial comment casts suspicion not only on Haim's narrative, but also on that of any teller who presumes to omniscience-even the author. The intent of this caution, however, is not to suggest that what Haim (or any of the narrators) says is false, in contrast to some objective demonstrable truth. Haim's version of the facts, real or unreal, is all we are given to know, and the author narrator occasionally foregoes his omniscience and retreats behind assumed ignorance or reticence, leaving many plot developments untold. We are never told, for example, whether or not Camil eventually died in prison, ostensibly because Haim and Brother Petar never learned what became of him. By working through the limited though often uncommonly extensive knowledge of his character narrators, the author avoids telling the whole of the stories that unfold in Devil's Yard. He thus diverts attention from the outcome of an action and directs it to a search for the sense of the stories in their basic patterns, rather than in the verifiable facts of the narrative. The author narrator's function is to elucidate the patterns of truth revealed by the lies, half truths, and fantasies of the characters. The patterns evinced in the transmission of stories from teller to teller are the same as those of archetypal legends. Traditional story-telling consists of variation on a few enduring themes, expressive of man's deepest concerns. Andric's artist, quoted at the start of this article, goes on to say: "There are a few basic legends of mankind . .. the legend of the fall of man, the flood, the Son of man crucified for the salvation of the world, Prometheus and the theft of fire. ..." ("Razgovor sa Gojom," 127.) Like stories in a folk tradition, the constituent stories in Devil's Yard-particularized anecdotes in themselves-repeat the patterns of legend. The chorus in the Devil's Yard provides an example of the process. Zaim and his fellow inmates are

Ivo Andric's Devil's Yard


naturally obsessed with talking about exploits with women. But by the time Zaim, a "maniac and incorrigible falsifier," has won and lost his eighteenth extraordinary wife it is evident that he has only one story, the old story of a quest for a bride and of the loss of a chance for immortality. The author narrator even states that these patterns are the patterns of legends, when he says of Camil's tale of Diem-sultan: "It was the ancient tale of two brothers in new and splendid form. As long as the world and time have existed, the two rival brothers have ceaselessly been being reborn and recreated among us." (93.) The pattern of Brother Petar's story-the frame of the novella as a whole-is not made explicit either by repetition or by editorial comment, yet it too belongs to tradition. The archetype of his experiences in the Devil's Yard is the legend of a visit to the other world. Brother Petar, a hero who has assumed a disguise (he wears secular garb for his journey to Istanbul), crosses a boundary to an alien society (Turkey, the Devil's Yard) ruled by a dread and ambiguous monster (the prison governor Karadjoz), encounters a gallery of human types (a Turk, a Jew, Bulgarians, Armenians), and returns with some special knowledge of human destiny (his contact with Camil). The nature of this other world, the Devil's Yard, links the novella with the tradition of depictions of hell in both folk and written literature, be that hell an underworld, inferno, prison, penal colony, madhouse, hospital ward, or hotel room. Andric, like his narrators, plays upon an established theme. While the several narratives in Devil's Yard reveal the archetypal patterns underlying the particular events of human history, their arrangement into a single whole forms other patterns of Andric's own making-patterns which convey his ideas of truth about the nature of the human situation. The intricate embedding of stories within stories in Devil's Yard follows patterns of both alternation and framing. The first is a favorite device of narrative structure in Andric's stories. He often presents a juxtaposition of two spheres, two kinds of reality, or a world of reality and a world of fantasy.9 In Devil's Yard the two spheres are represented by the changes in narrators. Within the frame of the young monk's recollections, segments in which Brother Petar is the narrator alternate with segments in which he is the auditor of others' tales. Brother Petar stands for sound reason and a clear view of reality in contrast to the other narrators, such as Haim and Camil. As the one figure who holds all the narratives in Devil's Yard together, he alone can enter the world of fantasy, while listening to others, and then return to his own sane world. In addition to the alternations between Brother Petar and the other narrators, the narratives in Devil's Yard are symmetrically arranged in a ring structure. Each of the major narrators (the young monk, Brother Petar,


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Haim, and Camil) creates a frame for the next, and each frame depicts a different setting. The novella begins and ends with an empty snow-covered landscape and an observer, the young monk who gazes outward from the monastic cell toward the friars' graves. As he recalls Brother Petar's tales, the setting shifts to the confines of the Devil's Yard, where Brother Petar hears the stories of Zaim and his fellows and Haim's account of Camil's life in Smyrna. Finally, Brother Petar is admitted into Camil's inner world when Camil tells him the history of his alter ego, Diem-sultan. From this central point the tale moves back to the prison, to Camil, Haim, Zaim, and Brother Petar, then to Brother Petar's stay in Acre, and finally back to the monastery. The latter part of the work thus retraces in condensed form the progression of the first part. In the progression from Brother Petar's grave to Diem-sultan's and back, an ironic counterpoint is created between the gradual narrowing of the focus on characters from groups to individuals, and the simultaneous broadening and elevating of the setting. The narrative moves from the oblivion of the friars' graveyard, through the anonymous crowd in the Devil's Yard, to the personal, inner tragedy of Camil-Dzem. At the same time the setting shifts from the provincial Bosnian monastery to the prison in the Turkish capital, to the wealthy merchant homes of Smyrna, and finally to the courts of kings, sultans, and popes throughout the Mediterranean world. The most exalted and most widely traveled of the charactersDzem-sultan-is enclosed within the narrowest frame of the story and has the smallest measure of freedom. He is a pawn in the hands of all around him because he is least able to escape from being what he is. The characters in Devil's Yard are all caught in the circles of hell not only by their physical situation, but also by their spiritual condition and by the very design of their story. This structure can be visualized as follows:
Narrator -young monk - Brother Petar Settizng snow, monastery Devil's Yard Subject Brother Petar Zaim Karadjoz Camil Haim Camil Zaim

Haim Brother Petar Camil Brother Petar Haim Brother Petar

Smyrna Devil's Yard Turkey, Rhodes, Rome Devil's Yard Devil's Yard Devil's Yard

Diem-sultan (amil (amil Zaim Haim Camil Karadjoz Brother Petar



Acre snow, monastery

Ivo Andric's Devil's Yard


Nearly all the inhabitants of Andric's Bosnia, his microcosm of the world, are transients trapped in some kind of Devil's Yard. Whether or not they are physically captive, they are spiritually bound within the confines of their own selves, oppressed by evil and under sentence of death. The prison metaphor of Devil's Yard simply makes more explicit the enclosed nature of the world in which the characters in his stories exist. Characters escape captivity by creating works of art: in words, by telling stories; or in solid material, by building beautiful objects such as the bridge on the Drina; or even in motion, by dancing, as Aska does to save her life in "Aska and the Wolf" ("Aska i Vuk").1? Legends, like bridges and all forms of art, provide both a means of communication among people and a means of transcending evil in a world where possibilities for communication and transcendence are rare. Brother Petar epitomizes the means of escape from alienation: he is both a master craftsman who creates in the world of concrete reality and a master story-teller who creates in the world of fantasy. The threat of impending death compels him, as it does the inmates of all Devil's Yards, to put forth a last and best effort to tell his story, to exorcise the evil he has experienced,Tl and to attain a kind of immortality by passing his story on to another:
[In his last days] Brother Petar told more and better stories about the two months he had spent in custody in Istanbul than about anything else. He spoke in fragments, as a sick man speaks who is trying not to show his listener that he is suffering physical pain or thinking about the approach of death. (14.)

So, too, Camil confides his story of Dzem; and the imprisoned Zaim "was trembling in fear of severe punishment if the case against him should be proved. Yet he was deceiving and drugging himself with the lies, half lies, and half truths which he continually told to any idlers ready for a laugh." (23.) For each teller in the Devil's Yard, lies and legends are the truth that sets one free. The view of the universe expressed in Andric's Bosnian tales is, however, ultimately dualistic. Evil may be transcended in brief moments of ecstasy, but it is never vanquished. Even story-telling is not wholly good. Just as a work of art like the bridge on the Drina demands recurrent human sacrifices (which become the stuff of legends), so also legend claims its victims. Envy and hatred can pervert story into destructive rumor. Camil's mother, a renowned beauty, is driven mad when a malicious, though true, tale destroys the lie with which she has been living. Camil repeats her story in his own life. Eventually he is brought to the Devil's Yard under suspicion of treason because idle talk about him has grown into an unproven conviction of guilt. In other cases, story-telling becomes a sort of disease or madness. It does so for Camil, as it does for Haim and Zaim, all of whom have lost


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touch with reality. While Zaim and his friends are presented as comic and grotesque in contrast to the dignified and tragic tone of Camil's story, measured against Brother Petar they are all sick with fancies:
[Brother Petar's] native frankness and sincerity, which had always before enabled him to say anything to anybody, was, it seemed, drugged and numbed by [Camil's]insistent narrative. And it always turned out that in the end the friar would give in and listen in silence, without approving but without voicing any objection to the youth's impassioned whispering. That which is not, which cannot and should not be, was more powerful than that which is, which exists, the only observable, possible reality. And afterwards Brother Petar would reproach himself for having yielded once more to the irresistible wave of madness and not having made a greater effort to turn the youth back into the way of reason. (112-13.)

Many of Andric's characters thus vacillate between the two spheres of reality and fantasy or ecstasy.12 The true heroes, those who survive, are those who like Brother Petar can negotiate the transition between the two, while those who like Camil become trapped in the world of fantasy are doomed to destruction. Legend, then, is not always a means of salvation. In the novella's epilogue the young monk broods over the melancholy feeling that stories, even the best ones like Brother Petar's, are not eternal. Not even stories confer immortality:
That's the end. There's nothing more. Only a grave among the unseen graves of the friars, lost like a snowflake in the high drifts that spread like an ocean and turn everything into a frozen waste without names or signs. There are no longer even any stories or story telling. As if there were not even a world worth one's seeing, walking, and breathing ... Nothing. Only the snow and the simple fact that one dies and goes under the earth. (147.)

As in The Bridge on the Drina, the last word, turning from the dead to the living, goes to creation not of legend or fantasy, but of artifact, of concrete reality. The young monk overhears two of his brothers cataloguing Brother Petar's effects: "'Go on. Write down: one steel saw, a small one, German made. One!' (147-48.) 13

1 Ivo Andric, "Razgovor sa Gojom," Staze, Lica, Pre4eli (Zagreb: Mladost, 1967), 127. 2 Ivo Andric, "Prica o vezirovom slonu," Nemirna godina (Zagreb: Mladost, 1967), 41. 3 For another view of the tale and the teller in Andric see Jan Wierzbacki, "Funkcija'Pripovjedaca'i 'Price' u Andricevoj prozi," Umjetnost rijeci, 6 (1962), i-ii: 50-68.

Ivo Andric's Devil's Yard

4 5


A prime example is the novel Na Drini cuprija (The Bridge on the Drina, 1945). Regina Minde, Ivo Andric: Studien iiber seine Erziihlkunst (Slavistische Beitrage

7 8 9

8; Munich: O. Sagner, 1962), 102 ff., points out that people seldom converse directly in Andric's stories; true communication takes place, if at all, only indirectly or wordlessly. In Devil's Yard dialogue, like narration, appears as quoted speech only when the least real dialogue is taking place. Ivo Andric, Prokleta avlija (Beograd: Prosveta, 1962), 79. The novella, first published in 1954, is available in English: The Devil's Yard, tr. Kenneth Johnstone (New York: Grove Press, 1962). Norman Friedman, "Point of View in Fiction: The Development of a Critical Concept,"PMLA, 70 (1955), 1169. See Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961), esp. Chap. 7. See also Minde, 127. See John Loud, "Between Two Worlds: Andric the Storyteller," Review of
National Literatures, 5 (1974), 121-24.

10 Ivo Andric, "Aska i Vuk," Deca (Zagreb: Mladost, 1967), 228-40. 11 The governor of the Devil's Yard, Karadjoz, in some ways is an embodiment of evil: Brother Petar often told about Karatjoz, always with a mixed feeling of bitterness, disgust, and a sort of involuntaryadmiration, with a wonder that he himself did not understand,but also with a desire and compulsion to depict the monster in words as well as possible, so that it should be clear also to his listener, so that he too would be amazed. And he would keep coming back to him, at least with an ironic word, as though he felt he had not had done with him. (47.)
12 John Loud, Zanos in the Early Stories of Ivo Andric, unpublished dissertation,

HarvardUniv., 1971. 13 A previous version of this paper was read at the AATSEEL meeting in New York, December 28, 1974. Some further references: Petar Dzadzic, O Prokletoj avliji (Beograd: Prosveta, 1975); Borisav Mihajlovic, "(itajuci Prokletu avliju," in Kriticari o Andricu, ed. Petar Dzadzic (Beograd: Nolit, 1962); Dragisa Zivkovic, "Nekoliko stilskih odlika proze Ive Andrica, povodom Proklete avlije,"
Godisnjak filozofskog fakulteta, Novi Sad, 1 (1956), 251-70; Dragisa Zivkovic,

"Epski i lirski stil Iva Andrica," in Ivo Andric, ed. Vojislav Duri6 (Beograd: Institut za teoriju knizevnosti i umetnosti, 1962), 81-103.