Death and the Dervish follows throughout the first-person perspective of Nuruddin, with little dialogue and much introspective soul-searching. But it is not difficult to read: the story, though superficially sparse, maintains a continuous suspense. And there is a fascinating array of other characters, seen through Nuruddin's sometimes insightful and sometimes naive eyes: his fellow dervishes in the tekke; his friend Hassan, the unsettled "black sheep" of his family, in love with a Dalmatian Christian; Hassan's father and sister; various townspeople; and religious and secular officials. Nuruddin also looks back at his experiences as a soldier.
Nuruddin's angst is often philosophical and his thinking is foreign, convincingly that of a Muslim religious recluse, and in many ways narrow and parochial. But his quandries are universal: Death and the Dervish is an evocation of Ottoman Bosnia, of a world now past, but above all the story of an individual struggling to find himself and maintain his integrity and dignity in a hostile political landscape. (Parts of the story were inspired by events in Mesa Selimovic's own life and in the modern history of Yugoslavia.) Nuruddin is not an anti-hero, but he is a man profoundly troubled, a thinker rather than a doer, ill-equipped for the challenges he faces.
Death and the Dervish is a masterpiece, a compelling psychological study and a spell-binding novel which approaches poetry in the intensity of its language. It's hard to believe it took thirty years for an English translation to appear.
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