The book “Crescent over the Neretva” by the Austrian writer Robert Michel, translated by Prof. Enisa Simić from Mostar was published by the Herzegovina. The editor of this edition is Salko Šarić, and the author of the detailed discussion about Michel and his work is Dr. Jozo Džambo.
It is less known that Bosnia and Herzegovina appears in beautiful literature in other languages, especially in German.
Among the considerable number of authors who dealt with Bosnian themes in their literary work, there is no writer in the German language area who could offer such a comprehensive work on Bosnia and Herzegovina as the Austrian writer Robert Michel (1876-1957) offered.
In addition to other works that he wrote under the influence of the literature of young Viennese modernism, Michel devoted almost his entire work to the Bosnian theme.
As in his relatively rich and branched literary creation, Bosnian motifs do not appear by the way, but form the backbone of his, above all, narrative work, literary circles called him “Bosnian writer.”
If we bear in mind that he was once a very popular, well-read and recognized writer, as evidenced by the fact that he received the most prestigious Austrian awards, then it can be said without further ado that his works contributed to the creation of a certain idea about our climate in Germany cultural space.
In this respect, his collection of short stories “The Woman in the Feredza” (Die Verhüllte) from 1907, the cultural-historical work “Mostar” (1908), the drama “Mejrima” (1909) and the novel “Houses by the Mosque” (Die Häuser an der Džamija) deserve special attention. ) from 1915, which, in addition to their undoubted cultural-historical value, are also distinguished by beautiful literary qualities.
With these works, Michel introduced Bosnian-Herzegovinian, or more precisely, Herzegovinian themes into Austrian literature, since the Herzegovinian climate, especially Mostar, is the setting in which the action of his narrative works and dramas take place.
Serving for several years as an Austrian officer in Mostar, Robert Michel got to know that climate and its people well, but at the same time he clearly felt the hidden drama and tragedy that he embodied in his works.
He had great success with his works with motifs from Bosnia and Herzegovina (novels, novels, plays, films). He was awarded with literary prizes, had good publishers, and most of his works saw several editions. This translated collection of Michel’s called “Crescent over the Neretva” contains fourteen novellas and two novels: “The Curse of the Azimbegovics” (originally “The Beloved Voice”) and “Houses by the Mosque”. For the novel “Houses by the Mosque” published by the famous Berlin publisher S. Fischer, he was awarded a prestigious prize named after the German writer Heinrich von Kleist.
The novel is a story about a Herzegovinian village and its people. It is about love and rivalry, superstition, joy, religions, coexistence, emigration, etc.
Literary critic Paul Wiegler wrote about Michel that he is a novelist of the karst, Bosnian shepherds, peasants and soldiers, South Slavic Muslim villages in “Houses near the mosque” or in the novel “Beloved Voice” (in our translation, “The Curse of the Azimbegovics”).
The setting of the novel “The Curse of the Azimbegovics” was, at that time, the village of Ilići near Mostar, and based on this work, the famous Czech composer Jaromir Weinberger wrote the libretto and composed the opera “The Beloved Voice”, which was premiered at the National Theater in Munich in 1931. In the history of Austrian literature by Nagel-Cajdler and Kastle, it is said that Mostar and its surroundings conquered this German of Czech origin so much, while he was serving here as an officer, that he tirelessly expressed his experience in his stories and dramas and thus revealed to us the soul of a foreigner. appetizers.
In 1940, Michel collected his Bosnian-Herzegovinian short stories and published them in the book “Halbmond über der Narenta”. The work saw several editions.
The plan to publish his collected works did not work out for Michel. He suffered a heart attack in 1951, from which he recovered slowly and laboriously. He died on February 11, 1957 in Vienna and was buried there.
It is to be hoped that this collection of Michel’s in our translation will interest the readership. They will surely find a lot of interesting and exciting things on its pages.
Without a doubt, Michel is “a writer who should be rediscovered”, as noted by the Italian Germanist Ferruccio Delle Cave.
If this work of his were now being published in Mostar, it would surely make Michel very happy. This translation of Michel’s collection “Crescent over the Neretva” will still remain as a sign of opposition to cultural negligence and forget.
“The Woman in the Verhüllte” (Die Verhüllte) – that’s the title of Robert Michel’s short story book. Short, unusual stories and pictures from Bosnia and Herzegovina sound strangely exotic and have something resignedly mournful, like shepherd’s songs and rocky karst wastelands of that country.
Modest, sober language that renounces all embellishment, language that looks almost unskilful, but is not, exerts here – perhaps inadvertently – its strong effect, offers a dry, faithful truth of life, and yet wonderfully excites, precisely because its simplicity and discretion allow that besides and behind what has been said, we sense a lot. This effect is certainly not the result of stylistic reflection and intention, but the natural power of suggestion of what has been intensely seen and experienced. We have the feeling that we are not hearing the author but the things themselves speaking, a feeling that no two out of a thousand books can evoke. The world of these stories is small, closed and constricted, but it is presented with the perfect certainty of the naive, therefore it enchants and strengthens like some natural phenomenon.
in the text about the short story collection The Woman in Ferreza (Die Verhüllte) by R. Michel, März (1908)
“I actually think this is your masterpiece. How beautifully sensuous clarity thickens with the whole event into small catastrophes of the outside world. How unusual and ordinary the event is at the same time, real and at the same time domestic and inspires trust, and how beautiful is the naturalness of these people, the purity that only the pure mirror of a poetic soul can reflect so clearly. Here, for the first time, I feel in you (and now forever) not only a poetically gifted man, but also a poet.”
Hugo von Hofmannsthal,
in a letter to R. Michel after reading the novel Houses by the Mosque (1913)