Aspects of The Fortress are clearly commentary on Yugoslavia in the 1960s — one scene is an undisguised communist self-criticism session — but this is nicely meshed with the workings of Ottoman Bosnia. Selimovic is not interested in the workings of bureaucracies and power elites themselves, however, but in their effects on ordinary people, and in the individual's ability to transcend, or at least live with, the constraints they impose.
"I left with the unpleasant taste of Osman's tale of hatred. What a life these people led! What an unremitting strain, the calculation of every step and of every word, the fatiguing consideration of the possible moves of an opponent! What a torment, what a waste of life! What little time or opportunity for normal human thinking and feeling, for caring for anything beyond oneself and one's danger! We saw them exercising power, force, in all their might, but didn't realize their unease, their fear of everything, of themselves, of the other, the greater, the lesser, the more intelligent, the more malicious, the more skillful, of the secret, of the shadow, of the dark, of the light, of taking the wrong step, of the sincere word, of everything and everybody!"
The Fortress perhaps ranks a little behind Selimovic's masterwork Death and the Dervish, but it is a striking and memorable novel.