Meša Selimović

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

Meša Selimović
Meša Selimović on a 2010 Serbian stamp
Meša Selimović on a 2010 Serbian stamp
Native name
Mehmed Selimović
BornMehmed Selimović
(1910-04-26)26 April 1910
Tuzla, Condominium of 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


Selimović was born to a prominent Bosnian Muslim family on 26 April 1910 in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he graduated from elementary school and high school.[2] 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]


Selimović researched the roots of his family and found out that he originated from the Drobnjaci tribe. Most members of the tribe consider themselves to be Serbs, while some are Montenegrins.[6] It is claimed that a part of the family converted to Islam in order to protect their Christian brethren.[6]

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.[7][8][9][10] Selimović was a full member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina,[11] and a member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.[12]

In his autobiographical narration, Sjećanja (transl. Memoirs), which Selimović complements with a memoir features thus transforming them into memoir prose, Selimović describes environment and milieu of his Bosnian Muslim origin.[6] He is using discursive self-perception, and confronts and auto-reflect his identity as a complex and composite. Since perception of national belonging is distinctly subjective and simplistic, auto-perceptions are considered discursive creations, representamen, where memoirs overlap with socio-historical context.[6] In doing so, and through lens of imagology, his autobiographical discourse becomes textual construct, or an imaginary discourse. Selimović's imaginarium turns his cultural self-reflection of his Bosnian Muslim identity into oddity, but he also describes it as a complex. His memories author then transpose on entire group, with a series of images.[6]

Through the rhetoric of the image, Selimović confirms the cultural differences of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), and in that sense, his autobiographical narrative representamen confirms and strengthens the cultural and collective ethnic identity of Bosniaks as an ethnic group.[6] Selimović clearly define himself by stating, "I am a Muslim", and, "I am attached to my Bosnian and Muslim origins".[6]

On the other hand, when Selimović brought forward the information about his Christian origin, some Bosnian Muslim critics attacked him, claiming that "they also knew about their origin", and asking him what is to be achieved with publicly expressing such information.[6]

Critics consider this to be a rationalization of his choice to seek recognition as writer belonging to Serbian literary circle,[13][12] by claiming that his paternal heritage was that of Orthodox Christian identity,[14][15] alleging a conversion to Islam back in the 17th century for pragmatic reasons.[13] The chapter Parents in his Sjećanje provoked reaction and criticism in his native country,[6] and will be deemed a "constructed phantasm", or imaginary discourse.[13] Critics contemplated about the reasons for this, as they called, "falsification of one's own family heritage", explaining it as a "vengeful act of defiance", and stating that Selimović's main conflicts trace back to his Muslim roots and his expression of disappointment in Bosnian environment and Bosnian Muslim milieu.[13]

He was a communist and atheist.[6]

According to his grandson Nikola, Selimović considered himself to be a Serbian writer of Muslim origin. He claimed that his mother received threats from Sarajevo-based organizations because "he (his grandson) did not have a Muslim name", which was the kind of situations which led Selimović to leave Sarajevo and settle in Belgrade in the first place.[16]


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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] Each chapter of the novel opens with a Quran citation, the first being: "In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful."[18]

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),[20] as well as his autobiography, Sjećanja.


His granddaughter is award-winning Serbian actress Hana Selimović.[21]


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 EnglishEdit

  • 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 enciklopedija Prosveta 1986.
  2. ^ Meier 2005, p. 196.
  3. ^ a b Selimović 2000, p. 7.
  4. ^ Jelušić 2005, pp. 69–84.
  5. ^ "Meša Selimović". Feniks magazine.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bajraktarević 2016, pp. 113–123.
  7. ^ "Sto godina od rođenja Meše Selimovića". Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  8. ^ "ПИСМО МЕШЕ СЕЛИМОВИЋА САНУ, КОЈИМ ПОТВРЂУЈЕ ДА ЈЕ СРБИН". Archived from the original on 31 May 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Ćerke velikog Meše Selimovića žive u Beogradu: Bosnu nose samo u sećanjima!". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  10. ^ Večernje Novosti: Pronašao mir u Beogradu, Dragan BOGUTOVIĆ, 9 July 2010 (in Serbian)
  11. ^ Lešić, Zdenko; Martinović, Juraj (2010). "Međunarodni naučni skup: Književno djelo Meše Selimovića" (in English and Serbo-Croatian). Dedication. Retrieved 25 December 2021. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ a b Meša SELIMOVIĆ Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  13. ^ a b c d "Meša Selimović – bosanski pisac srpske nacionalnosti". P.E.N. (in Bosnian). 29 April 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2021.
  14. ^ Selimović 1976.
  15. ^ "Порекло писца Мехмеда Меше Селимовића". Poreklo. 30 March 2016.
  16. ^ "Moj deda, Meša Selimović". (in Serbian). Retrieved 4 March 2022.
  17. ^ Skakić 1992, pp. 43, 67.
  18. ^ a b Деретић 1987.
  19. ^ Skakić 1992, pp. 92–95.
  20. ^ "[Projekat Rastko – Banja Luka] Mesa Selimovic: Za i protiv Vuka (1967)".
  21. ^ "Hana Selimović: (Ne)simpatična buntovnica – Ljudi – Dnevni list Danas" (in Serbian). 8 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2022.

External linksEdit

Preceded by President of the Association of Writers of Yugoslavia
Succeeded by