The Slave Girl and Other Stories About Women

by Ivo Andric

Plot summaries of selected stories with spoilers!

Love in the Kasaba - A Bosnian town in a deep basin surrounded by cliffs. Villagers are serious and hard working scraping a living from a harsh land. A Christian military Captain stationed in town scandalously woos a pretty young daughter of a Jewish family. After he is caught in her garden late at night, her father asks his superiors to send him away to a different post to save her virtue. The daughters heart is broken as she loves him and she throws herself into the river and drowns. There is a drought and superstion says pouring water on her grave will break it. But it doesn't work, and a curse seems to fall on the village, people go mad, animals stop giving milk. Then summer ends, the drought breaks, and the cycle of life begins anew.

An Uneasy Year - A fat paraplegic pillow-sitting fez-wearing money-lender holds sway over a town with his powerful influences of personality and money. A young gypsy orphan girl is adopted into his house after her parents are killed in a gypsy cleansing sweep. Strangely, she is the only person the money-lender seems unable to force around with the power of his words, she in fact is more strong willed than he. This marks the beginning of the end of his confidence and power, a crack that never heals. The girl is eventually given to a visiting army Captain and taken away after an uneasy year in his house.

Corkan and the German Tightrope Walker - A village idiot falls in love from afar with a young tight-rope walker from Germany, who is in town with the travelling circus. In fact many men in town lust after her, but his virginal love is the most true. After a drunken incident involving town notables late at night trying to get her to "perform" in private, constibles come and lay the blame on the idiot, who is beaten to an inch of his life. He slowly recovers from the wounds, both the physical and the emotional of her loss, and returns to his days as a village idiot happy as ever.

Maltreatment - a simple but powerful story about a hard working and well-meaning young woman who marries a weak man. He is not outwardly mean or abusive in any material way, and well respected in the community, but his constant vanity in private, as he makes up stories about himself, drives her crazy until she leaves him, much to the confussion and disagreement of those around her who don't understand. This story taught me a lot about how men can drive women nuts and the importance of empathy and personal integrity.

Olujaci - Olujaci is an isolated Bosnian mountain village set steeply into the sides of a ravine. The people are dull, suspicious, short and ugly, interested only in work. They raise nut trees. A tall, beautiful sensitive woman is sent there from another town in a forced marriage. She is unable to adjust, and when her brother comes to see how she is, her crazy husband becomes jelous and kills them all, including himself, by burning the house down. The villagers don't seem to care much and use the burned plot to work on cracking nuts, metaphorically too much work makes one physically and emotionally stunted, crazy like a nut. This is a highly atmospheric and visual story.

Thirst - A military commander searches for a bandit in the mountains, returning every few days to his wife in town. When he finally captures him and imprisons him in his basement, his wife stays up all night unable to sleep, unable to reconcile the brutality of the bandit and her husband, who has denied the injured man water ("thirst"). He then wakes up and roughly begins to make love to his wife, who "Losing all recollection not only of last night but of all life, she sank into the deaf and twilit sea of familiar and ever-new pleasure. Above her floated the last traces of her nighttime thoughts and resolutions and of all human compassion, dissolving into air one after another like watery bubbles over a drowning person." Beautiful, an example how Andric can take the commonplace and familair, like the common people he writes about, and make it profound and deeply human.

The Slave Girl - A girl is held in a cage at a seaside town while her owner haggles with potential buyers. The girl thinks back on how she was enslaved, her family killed and town destroyed, and sees nothing but disgrace and blackness. She manages to hang herself in the cage in a highly descriptive manner.

Zuja - A young girl Zuja is given over by her father to a rich family where she serves out her life as a maid and raises the families children as a governess. Later after she grows old and dies, and the children grow up. She returns in a vision to one of the grown children. This vision includes an episode early in Zuja's life when she is raped by a stranger on a bridge over a stream.

The Pasha's Concubine - Novella. A Pasha takes a 15yo concubine and sleeps with her nightly until a Bosnian uprising forces him to abandon her. Tainted by shame and no place to go, she finds refuge in a rich household as a servant but is treated coldly. She dies in childbirth, along with the baby, at the same time Serejavo is under attack by the Austrians. The idea being the mixture of Turkish and Bosnian (Christian) living together has died.

Anika's Times - Novella. A young women is spurned by her lover and she becomes a prostitute, ruining every man in town. Sort of a Zola-esque take on Nana. Great insights into guilt, grief, evil and redemption.

Stephen Balbach