‘Thirst’ was written by Nobel Prize-winning Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andric, a famous Bosnian essayist, short-story writer, and novelist. He is famed for his two epic novels, The Bridge on the Drina and Bosnian Chronicle. He passed away in 1975 after leading an extraordinary life in the most extraordinary times. This short story penned by him titled ‘Thirst’ is emotive and reflective, quite like the pre-Hemingway style of narration. The story alludes to a political and crime-and-order issue in the Balkans during World War One and Two. The story was published in the year 1934, so probably the geographical situation the world was in at that period is alluded to here. However, the story haunts the imagination with a foreboding of something terrible in the waiting. The tale ‘Thirst’ is a testimonial in fiction form of the awful disturbances that would take place in that part of the world, starting with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, which sparked off the First World War. Since then, this region has never been at peace, but maybe we can empathize with the ordinary people of this region who have been forced to go through a lot without having had anything to do with the tension in their area.
Ivo Andric won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. He was in the Yugoslavian diplomatic service when the story was written and was appointed an ambassador to Germany in 1939. Thus, Ivo had firsthand knowledge of the happenings in this region of the world. Whether he may have been a humanist or not, that is left to the historians to decide. But the fact is that ‘Thirst’ speaks of the parallelism between the thirst of a dying bandit fighting for his own notion of patriotism and probably dying in a most miserable way for it, and the torture of the conscience of the young wife of the commander as she has sex with her husband. Thus, the ‘Thirst’ of the bandit parallels with the ‘thirst’ of sex and the pleasures of life. The commander’s wife is a woman with a conscience, but she is also a woman who is equally anxious and compassionate. She feels empathy for the bandit Lazar who was being driven to death through thirst by her heartless husband. Indeed, this is because the commander was taking out his political lineage’s revenge on Lazar. The commander wanted to torture Lazar to set an example to his compatriots but unwittingly foretells the future of troubles that the region would suffer for a long time to come. One wonders whether the true patriots of the Balkans only wish to heal old festering wounds and quench their thirst for peace and compassion. Like most powers that be, the commander failed to see this and, according to his wife, heartlessly has sex with her while a bandit is dying of thirst.
The wife is newlywed but is the porcelain doll of her husband. Hers is not to question ‘why’ but to ‘do or die’, and so, even though she is most unwilling to encourage the lovemaking between them, she is forced to bear her cruel husband like a stone upon her. There could be nothing crueler than condemning a man like Lazar with a septic and festering wound in his chest from a gunshot to suffer all night in cramped quarters without even a drop of water. If one does not find that utterly cruel, then they have misplaced their moral conscience, probably because of the terrible atrocities they have seen in this region of the world. The commander could care less for Lazar while we see that Lazar gets some faint form of comradery from:
- Zhivan, his countryman who was a spy for the commander but who celebrated the feast of St. John with Lazar.
- The women of the village Sokoc who spoke in grave admiring voices of the daring deeds of Lazar who was in their eyes brave.
- The commander’s wife realizes the worth of the person Lazar and how sinful it was on her hardhearted husband’s part to deprive him of water in such a terrible way.
The young wife is like the wife of Pontius Pilate in the tale of the Gospel. She has been made aware of the personage of Lazar but fails to stop her husband from having sex with her just so that she may mourn in spirit with the dying Lazar. The commander is like all the powers of that time, thinking the issue to be temporary when in reality, the problem would be lethal and long-lasting, almost the focal point of World War One and World War Two. The commander is a true Pontius Pilate who feels that he has done his duty and so washes his hands off Lazar, even if the bandit dies without revealing the secrets of his companions.
The story highlights the painful way Lazar begs, curses, and pleads all night for water to quench his thirst. The situation is sad to read, and the lines sketched by the author Ivo Andric are memorable. This takes place in chronological order:
- He begs in the name of St. John or by his faith that Zhivan should quench his thirst.
- He takes the name of Zhivan’s children.
- He curses the commander and calls him worse than a Turk, thus indicating that his patience is long past.
- He then challenges Zhivan’s manhood and curses him to his face yet begs for a drop of water.
- He is now delirious and cursing without cognition; he roars that they could kill him if they wanted to, but first quench his thirst.
- Lastly, he lets loose his foulest words but still calls for water.
Notice the words and descriptions are heart-wrenching and emotive, which is akin to the style of early twentieth-century European fiction. The young wife reflects all night like Pontius Pilate’s wife on the pain undergone by Lazar and, in a way, keeps vigil with him. She wonders whether what was happening to him and her country was all a matter of revenge, and if so, is there any end to revenge or any sense in revenge? Ivo Andric, the writer of this short story titled ‘Thirst’, suggests that in the name of revenge, the region was succumbing to the fate of falling off a precipice of danger, which would only embroil the region in wars and unrest for years to come. When she sees her husband asleep despite the cries of Lazar, the young wife realizes the enormous gap between her and him. People like the commander were giving into the needs of the hour instead of thinking in the long run. The young wife realizes the ominous fate of the future and so mourns with Lazar.
The wound in Lazar’s chest is the wound of the region that has been cheated in some way or another. The sexual gratification of the commander is the way people in his position brazenly blaspheme against humanity. The story ends with the young wife bearing her husband’s embrace like a cold stone, while in the distance, Lazar’s voice, in an ethereal manner, continues to plead for water.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing the short story titled ‘Thirst’ by writer Ivo Andric. This short story analysis is also available in Braille format to benefit those suffering from sight disability. I hope to read and analyze more works by European writers soon. If you are interested in reading more short story analyses, you can check out my work here. If you are interested in reading an award-winning short-story collection of LGBTQIA fiction, you can check out my novel titled The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. I hope to read and review more of Ivo Andric’s works soon.
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