(Avant pres 2021)
As much as he wanted, with great delay, in this unplanned visit to Sokobanja to find the places that were related to his mother’s childhood, Jas was aware that even the very attempt to search would be in vain. There was no topographic information about the place where her family or close and distant relatives lived, nor any paper or document that would testify to anything related to her life in her youth in this place. Only photos of her, her sisters and brother, her father on a walk or in a bar. But from those photos it was not possible to recognize the house or the scene. None of them were alive, nor was there anyone outside the extended family who could testify about anything. And even if there was, he did not know about such a person.
All in all, it was the cruel consequence of their mutual ignorance. Physically speaking, the two spent insignificantly little time together until her death. If he tried to gather the moments, the hours and all the time he was with her, he was not sure how many dozens of days that sum would have. Certainly a small number. Therefore, it was somehow understandable, and even grossly fair, that such a mission – “the search for the mother” had no chance of success. Although the reason for this at the time, to put it mildly, was a higher power (so long ago, he as a baby, not even a child at the time!, certainly could not influence the separation of his parents), he was ready to take some of the blame for such neglected ignorance of his mother’s family.
He was not sure if it was just sad or perhaps tragic that he knew so much more about the occasional stay of Ivo Andrić in Sokobanja than about the life of his mother who was born here and spent the first seventeen years of her childhood and girlhood. And when he mentioned the Nobel laureate, a “saving” idea came to his mind: why not turn coincidence into improvisation, and walk a bit in the footsteps of his favorite writer? Maybe that would partially compensate for the helplessness in the search for the mother? Maybe the form would comfort the content?
He did that.
He first visited the still well-kept villa “Bota”, a one-storey holiday house built in 1933, which Andrić used during his shelterings from Belgrade in 1942. That was after 1941. when at his own request he returned to the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia from his embassy in Berlin. He was dissatisfied with the conduct of the Yugoslav government, i.e. diplomacy, which, although formally obliged, did not consult him on the negotiating positions and reactions to the political actions of Nazi Germany. He was bypassed by the institution in which he had worked since 1920 (where he was appointed Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1937) and was undoubtedly a very experienced and respected diplomat: by then he had already served in the Vatican, Trieste, Bucharest, Graz, Marcel, Madrid, Brussels, Paris, Rome, Geneva …
Doctor of Science, leading analyst of Yugoslav diplomacy, writer, since 1926 was one of the youngest (corresponding) members of the Serbian Royal Academy, and since 1939 was its regular member. Upon his return to Belgrade, he feared the domestic Quisling government more than the German occupation commands. Especially after he refused to sign the Appeal to the Serbian people, a public act condemning any action against the occupier. Much later he personally testified that he always had a suitcase packed with the most necessary things, sure that he would be arrested at any moment. But his withdrawal from the military public also brought him considerable good: he sat at his desk, as if glued to it, at the time located with the family of lawyer Brane Milenkovic on Prizren Street, writing the novel for which he used much of the material collected during his service in Paris in 1928 and in Vienna ten years later. In the archives and libraries of that time he searched for the reports and correspondence of the Travnik consuls from the time of their official stays in Bosnia in the early XIX century, so he built the future literary characters. This was a natural continuation of his interests, which he had already elaborated in 1924 in his doctoral thesis on the spiritual life of Bosnia under Turkish influence. Now that scientific analysis has, in fact, grown into a completed literary view of the writer’s homeland under the political and cultural strata of the near West and the Middle East. When in early July 1942 he put a full-stop after the last word and signed the manuscript of his first novel Travnik Chronicles, coming out of the creative madness, (again) became aware of the danger that lurks. It was the right moment for the suitcase packed a year ago for a possible stay in prison to be used now to go to Sokobanja, instead to a prison.