A Novel of Murder and Mystery, Revenge and Forgiveness
by Vuk Drašković
Knife, by Vuk Drašković, created a furor when it was published in 1982, long before the beginning of the Balkan Wars of Succession. The novel was condemned by the Communist Party and subsequently banned. It is the first of his novels to appear in English.
Alija Osmanović, the protagonist of Knife, was orphaned during WWII as an infant. He was raised as a Bosnian Muslim and came to believe that Serbs killed his family. When, as a young medical student, he goes in search of the identity of his murdered birth-parents, a sense of thwarted justice motivates him, and expresses itself as a burning passion for revenge.
Alija seeks out Sikter Efendi, an eccentric and reclusive Muslim cleric, to help him interpret clues pointing to his identity. Through his mentorship, Alija discovers the truth: that his heritage is Serbian; that he was born not far away but in the neighboring village; and that his adoptive family was guilty of murdering his birth-family. A crisis of identity ensues. Each possible course of action open to him is bad. How is he to go on? Alijas story is counterpointed by Milan Vilenjaks. He has been training all his life to exact revenge from Atif Tanović, an Ustashi who single-handedly murdered Milans entire family.
But once Milan has the opportunity to end his enemys life, he recoils, having discovered that Atif is a human being, a man who exists apart from his monstrous acts, a man who is troubled by his bad conscience. Tanović, an avowed war criminal, is a repulsive villain who is to be prosecuted and punished, but Draković persuades us to sympathize with him. Who cannot admire the profound transformation that occurs when Atif argues against war and the slaughter of innocents? Hence, Draković's underlying theme: each act of revenge is a suicide.
About the Author
Vuk Drašković is Serbias most controversial novelist, and is viewed by many Serbs as a charismatic and larger than life figure. All five of his novels, written in the 1980s, tackled difficult themes and challenged Communist revisionist history. Draković abandoned literature in the early 1990s in order to form an opposition political party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (Srpski Pokret Obnove), in order to introduce democracy to Yugoslavia.
Knife, Chapters 1 & 2 (PDF)