The diary he kept in Banja testifies to this first stay in this peaceful place: it holds the first note dated July 10 until October 9, 1942. when he signed the end of the writing of the short story “Snake”. These three months are extremely important for Andrić’s work. Namely, already with the wind in his back (having written the Travnik Chronicles manuscript), now here he could dedicate himself to his second masterpiece, the novel The Bridge on the Drina for which he already had completely collected material. It is here that he began the novel in his famous notebook known as “Pepita – a large notebook” in which on thirty-nine pages he left a trace of his handwriting with fragments of several works: one page of text, entitled “At the Gate”, in fact, the core of his second novel. On his notebook with his own hand, shortly after his return to Belgrade, he wrote “From this came the Bridge on the Drina”. To this “Written in Sokobanja in 1942” is added, also written with a graphite pencil, as well as the date of the additional notes: “Entered 9.1.43”. In addition, on seven pages in the “Pepita notebook” there is a concept of the text for the short story “Elena, the woman who is not there” under which he wrote: “Everything was entered, in a slightly changed form, in ‘On a journey’ (V. Jelena)“. In addition, he recorded conversations with the locals, and some of the thoughts were later included in “Roadside Signs”. It is interesting, however, that the first entry in Andrić’s Sokobanja diary dated 13 July 1942 refers to the concept of the theme in “About the Story and Storytelling”, to which he will return two decades later, at the official presentation of the Nobel Prize in Literature in December 1961, when under the same title he read to the whole world the word in the glory of writing. As it is known, all this (together with “The Miss”), as much as three novels!, after the end of the war in 1945, he published almost in an instant. With that, he resounded loudly and unquestionably in the Yugoslav, but also – as it will be shown – in the world literary public. His patriotic and very risky decision – which cost him public silence and danger to life – during the war in a sign of protest not to publish anything while the country is ruled by the occupier and the domestic collaborationist government, he compensated more than visibly.
It is obvious that these three months in Sokobanja were extremely fruitful, not only in terms of the amount of writing, but, above all, in terms of the significance of what Andrić wrote here. In fact, all the sketches, with the return to Belgrade, with the continuation of the persistent and uninterrupted work of extensive and valuable manuscripts – future books. Maybe he could afford it all because he felt unburdened in every way in the spa: Sokobanja proved to be a universal remedy that filled his chest with fresh air, strengthened his body with clear spring water and home-made food, rested his eyes with looking at the untouched nature, he enjoyed bathing in the thermal springs… Besides, this spa seemed as if the war had not reached it: there was no fear of arrests in it, and when some armies appeared nearby, he fled the settlement and remained at the long mountain trails near the caves, ideal for sheltering from war, not just rain. Andrić also had his own, special cave. But there was another essential reason why he fell in love with this area: fueled by childhood memories (which were further reinforced by the theme he wrote about in both novels), Andrić saw and felt the great similarity of this mountainous area that embraces the valley of the river Moravica with its Visegrad and the river Drina. Everything that could be included in intimate reasons, except the additional ones – health, is the real essence why Andrić many years, even decades, later often returned to Sokobanja.
Finishing the tour of the center of the spa and all the occasions for the reflection that this walk woke up, Jas headed to the edges of the place, passed by the river Moravica and not far from it, climbing to a much higher altitude, on one of the hills at the foot of the mountain Ozren and visited the eponymous hotel “Moravica”. It was the second place that for Andrić, in his later visits to the spa, became an oasis of even greater peace than the previous one.
Namely, on someone’s recommendation, he started coming here at the end of the sixties together with his wife Milica Babić, and after her death in 1968, in the period from 1971 to 1974 very often it was three times a year, for several weeks. For years, in addition to peace, rest and memories, Andrić added the health reasons for his stay in Sokobanja. Now he was much more comfortable with the location of this hotel outside the settlement, surrounded on all sides by forests and hills. Always staying in the same apartment number 144, with the windows and terrace facing Moravica and Ozren, which he could almost hug, and on the other side the somewhat more distant mountain ‘Rtanj, Jas thought that Andrić here, like him now, standing in the writer’s apartment, must have had a sense of the roundness of the world, of its completeness and perhaps false but of course, albeit temporary tranquility. He must have had personal peace here; in fact, he left enough written sentences for that. They all contained astonishment at what he saw, but they also radiated a true love for what this nature and its people gave him. He wrote down feelings that mainly dominate youth, which are built on the words of sadness, ecstasy and romanticism. Even when he wrote down the thought on death, it was uttered with a look from this place, right from Sokobanja: “If only she the way she is (S.B.) would like to stay at least until my death.” And then there is the crescendo and the thought that radiates with reconciliation with the world, with oneself, with death and with a little unbounded hope: “… Just so you know: people die here too, because you have to die everywhere in the world. But life here is better and probably a bit longer.”
Of all the sentences Andrić wrote about Sokobanja, Jas had his favorite. He liked it so much that he broke it into three verses, creating from it, for his own needs, a Japanese haiku song:
Everything in this area is anonymous
and as ordered by nature,
and she was not stingy here.
The word “anonymous” came from the very source of Andrić’s wisdom, but also from the wisdom of the universe.
translated from Serbian: Aleksandar Prokopiev