| Diwan Special issue|
Born in 1935 in Šabac (Serbia), lives in Sarajevo (B&H).
The motto of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian anthology of travelogues, which Alija Isaković edited for ’Svjetlost’ Sarajevo and published in 1973, includes the famous words of Ivan Frano Jukić, which are often for some reason wrongly ascribed to Ivo Andrić: ’The highest mountain for a Bosnian is his own doorstep’. That motto refers to the two significant things related to the travelogue writer, Alija Isaković.
To think of Alija Isaković as a travelogue writer inevitably means to think of him as a very knowledgeable travelogue enthusiast. During the pre-war years we enjoyed the TV show called ’Hodoljublja’ (a Bosnian coinage for a travelogue) on Sarajevo TV, written and narrated by Zuko Džumhur, and directed by Mirza Idrizović. We were not aware at the time that this beautiful title of the show was not their own invention: this term had been coined by Alija Isaković, ten years prior to the TV show, and included in the above anthology (Hodoljublje, published by ’Svjetlost’, Sarajevo, 1973). It was ’a selection from love’ and, at the same time, a thorough scholarly work, used even today as a source of information for researchers: it includes a ’Glossary’, ’Documents for the Bibliography of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Travelogues (1842-1970)’, ’Remarks’, an ’Index’ as well as the preface, appropriately written in the literary, historical and aesthetic sense. The preface, as a motto, includes the words of Ivan Frano Jukić: ’Bosniaks say that the highest mountain for a traveller is his own doorstep, and that is the truth’.
The author nearly apologises, in the preface, for including not only writers, but also journalists, reporters and observers in the book; but after reading it, one gets the impression that the whole book consists of ’the pearls of hodoljublja’. Knowledge, combined with love, has made the best possible selection for the book, so ’Isaković’s journalists’ do not differ from ’Isaković’s writers’. A travelogue can include anything: poetry, a story, a description of a place, and evidence of encounters with people, and it can still be real literature – provided it is all rolled into one in a creative and subjective manner. An inevitable consequence of the presence of such a creative subject is that the real literary travelogue cannot be limited to neither of the above, meaning that there must be some ’third’, distinctive feature, which makes one travelogue writer different from another.
Many characteristics join together so as to make Alija Isaković’s travelogues very distinctive (’Once’, published by Prva književna komuna, Mostar, 1986). There is one characteristic which stands out from the others and which makes the texts specific: not only places and people but also the traveller himself are the subject of his travelogues. Basically, there is nothing unusual or new about it; on the contrary, it is a commonplace of every literary travelogue, but Isaković’s work is new and specific because of the way he presents a traveller before the reader’s eyes. A traveller can be, for example, an enthusiast, a philosopher or a meditator (Huxley), or a sneering observer with a compassionate expression, or even a cynic (again, Huxley in ’Jesting Pilate’), a hater, an explorer or, generally, anything a man can possibly be. It seems, however, that we have never before seen a travelogue like this one, which deals, as Isaković’s travelogue does, with the existential issue of human life. This feature makes Isaković’s work a modern, contemporary travelogue. Today, its contemporaneity can be shown through many examples among which the best one, found in the text ’To Put Consciousness In A Horizontal Line’, portrays seasickness as the existential suffering of a traveller. This suffering is equal to any other human suffering, thus capable of removing all the beauty and kindness from the world, altering both its appearance and the mode of its presence: ’There came, parading, first, second or I-do-not-care-which-one deck officer. Not only do I not comprehend his rank up there, but also I do not see the shape of his face: does it cheat us while grinning and gently smiling or does it make a fun of us?’
There are many details, in Isaković’s work, similar to the one above. They all indicate that not only does a Man travel through the world (as it is usually depicted in travelogues of the meditative and ’ecstatic’ kind) but the man also has a head that serves not only for thinking and admiring but also for suffering headaches. While describing the head as such, the author makes sure that the story does not get too personalised and private, but rather fits it into the picture of the world and the regions that the travelogue depicts.
The best details of this travelogue are those that match the existential circumstances with the spiritual, metaphysical desire and pain embodied in the fact that everything seems to be ’somewhere else’ and that everything happens only ’once’. One such description of awaking in a train, is found in the text entitled ’Once’. Such is the whole text entitled ’The Scent of Memories’ which depicts a long wait for a plane bound towards home, at the Rome Airport Fiumicino: this text as a whole becomes a masterpiece among our travelogue prose.
But those details are not the only factor which makes Isaković’s stories so successful. They are literary because of their approach to the reality they encounter. They never reduce reality to current events, which is a journalistic approach. They create ’geological layers’ of landscapes that often begin with geology itself, continue with plants and people, and end with a look at the clouds above Pelješac, which will, in the next moment, form the contours of an indestructible Greek myth over Mediterranean. For each of the layers, Isaković has an appropriate word consisting equally of information, knowledge and the ability of literary ”immersion”, but it seems that no one else among our travelogue writers, except Matko Peić, can talk with plants the way Isaković does. And he knows how to link the layers by metaphors which then, as a unit, make an object of poetry: let the sentence ’The Bosnia that is twinkling as a green leaf of maze stalks’ be an example of such ability, and the author, sensing its beauty, repeats it, slightly changed, in the text ’Visiting Syria’. Alija Isaković passionately writes his travelogue, using the same language from his story-writing, so all of his travelogue works (not only the ones selected as the masterpieces of literature) begin, thanks to that language, to pant, yell, groan, hiss, shed tears, show hundreds of colours and, that way, everything becomes literature.
When we mention Jukić’s sentence, used in the motto for ’Hodoljublja’, we also tackle the other important thing related to both Alija Isaković’s and Bosnian-Herzegovinian travelogues. Undoubtedly, it is a nice metaphor for someone who is reluctant to travel, but this metaphor, as every other metaphor, can convey other meanings, too. A Bosnian, broad-minded by nature, is able to move his doorstep, depending on what kind of people and regions he finds beyond it.
With reference to the above, there is another important characteristic of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian travelogue: it is not, like Huxley’s (Huxley, ’Jesting Pilate’) or Michaud’s work (Michaud, ’A Barbarian In Asia’), based so much on observation and judgement, but on empathy, excitement, accepting of what is to be accepted and what, therefore, becomes one’s doorstep. Zuko Džumhur was the only one among the great Bosnian travelogue writers who favoured sarcastic, witty observations, while others (Ćamil Sijarić, Alija Isaković and, today, Ibrahim Kajan) favoured identification with the people and places so that their observations turned into poetry.
In Alija Isaković’s work, poetry is most present when he travels all over Bosnia. This is where the quality of artistic narration, which Kandinski named vibration of the soul, is revealed, with the addition of one small ’specification’: while, for Ćamil Sijarić, another great Bosnian travelogue writer, the soul vibrates in contact with towns, old stones and the time of their origin, Isaković’s soul is closer to the nature of grass or, again, a stone, but his stone is the eternal one, the one that has always been present and, thus, ’has never originated’.
Translated by Mirza Džanić
Diwan 2002. Sva prava zadržana.
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