The house in which Andrić was born
Ivan Andrić[b] was born in the village of Dolac, near Travnik, on 9 October 1892, while his mother, Katarina (née Pejić), was in the town visiting relatives. Andrić's parents were both Catholic Croats. He was his parents' only child. His father, Antun, was a struggling silversmith who resorted to working as a school janitor in Sarajevo, where he lived with his wife and infant son. At the age of 32, Antun died of tuberculosis, like most of his siblings. Andrić was only two years old at the time. Widowed and penniless, Andrić's mother took him to Višegrad and placed him in the care of her sister-in-law Ana and brother-in-law Ivan Matković, a police officer. The couple were financially stable but childless, so they agreed to look after the infant and brought him up as their own. Meanwhile, Andrić's mother returned to Sarajevo seeking employment.
Andrić was raised in a country that had changed little since the Ottoman period despite being mandated to Austria-Hungary at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Eastern and Western culture intermingled in Bosnia to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the Balkan peninsula. Having lived there from an early age, Andrić came to cherish Višegrad, calling it "my real home". Though it was a small provincial town (or kasaba), Višegrad proved to be an enduring source of inspiration. It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional town, the predominant groups being Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks). From an early age, Andrić closely observed the customs of the local people. These customs, and the particularities of life in eastern Bosnia, would later be detailed in his works. Andrić made his first friends in Višegrad, playing with them along the Drina River and the town's famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge.
Primary and secondary education
At age six, Andrić began primary school. He later recounted that these were the happiest days of his life. At the age of ten, he received a three-year scholarship from a Croat cultural group called Napredak (Progress) to study in Sarajevo. In the autumn of 1902, he was registered at the Great Sarajevo Gymnasium (Serbo-Croatian: Velika Sarajevska gimnazija), the oldest secondary school in Bosnia. While in Sarajevo, Andrić lived with his mother, who worked in a rug factory. At the time, the city was overflowing with civil servants from all parts of Austria-Hungary, and thus many languages could be heard in its restaurants, cafés and on its streets. Culturally, the city boasted a strong Germanic element, and the curriculum in educational institutions was designed to reflect this. From a total of 83 teachers that worked at Andrić's school over a twenty-year period, only three were natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina. "The teaching program," biographer Celia Hawkesworth notes, "was devoted to producing dedicated supporters of the [Habsburg] Monarchy." Andrić disapproved. "All that came ... at secondary school and university," he wrote, "was rough, crude, automatic, without concern, faith, humanity, warmth or love."
Andrić experienced difficulty in his studies, finding mathematics particularly challenging, and had to repeat the sixth grade. For a time, he lost his scholarship due to poor grades. Hawkesworth attributes Andrić's initial lack of academic success at least partly to his alienation from most of his teachers. Nonetheless, he excelled in languages, particularly Latin, Greek and German. Although he initially showed substantial interest in natural sciences, he later began focusing on literature, likely under the influence of his two Croat instructors, writer and politician Đuro Šurmin and poet
Tugomir Alaupović . Of all his teachers in Sarajevo, Andrić liked Alaupović best, and the two became lifelong friends.
Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer. He began writing in secondary school, but received little encouragement from his mother. He recalled that when he showed her one of his first works, she replied: "Did you write this? What did you do that for?" Andrić published his first two poems in 1911 in a journal called Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy), which promoted Serbo-Croat unity. At the time, he was still a secondary school student. Prior to World War I, his poems, essays, reviews, and translations appeared in journals such as Vihor (Whirlwind), Savremenik (The Contemporary), Hrvatski pokret (The Croatian Movement), and Književne novine (Literary News). One of Andrić's favorite literary forms was lyrical reflective prose, and many of his essays and shorter pieces are prose poems. The historian Wayne S. Vucinich describes Andrić's poetry from this period as "subjective and mostly melancholic". Andrić's translations of August Strindberg, Walt Whitman, and a number of Slovene authors also appeared around this time.
The whole of our society is snoring ungracefully; only the poets and revolutionaries are awake.
~ Andrić's view of pre-war Sarajevo.
In 1908, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the chagrin of South Slav nationalists like Andrić. In late 1911, Andrić was elected the first president of the Serbo-Croat Progressive Movement (Serbo-Croatian Latin: Srpsko-Hrvatska Napredna Organizacija; SHNO),[c] a Sarajevo-based secret society that promoted unity and friendship between Serb and Croat youth and opposed the Austro-Hungarian occupation. Its members were vehemently criticized by both Serb and Croat nationalists, who dismissed them as "traitors to their nations". Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians. On 28 February 1912, he spoke before a crowd of 100 student protesters at Sarajevo's railway station, urging them to continue their demonstrations. The Austro-Hungarian police later began harassing and prosecuting SHNO members. Ten were expelled from their schools or penalized in some other way, though Andrić himself escaped punishment. Andrić also joined the South Slav student movement known as Young Bosnia, becoming one of its most prominent members.
In 1912, Andrić registered at the University of Zagreb, having received a scholarship from an educational foundation in Sarajevo. He enrolled in the department of mathematics and natural sciences because these were the only fields for which scholarships were offered, but was able to take some courses in Croatian literature. Andrić was well received by South Slav nationalists there, and regularly participated in on-campus demonstrations. This led to his being reprimanded by the university. In 1913, after completing two semesters in Zagreb, Andrić transferred to the University of Vienna, where he resumed his studies. While in Vienna, he joined South Slav students in promoting the cause of Yugoslav unity and worked closely with two Yugoslav student societies, the Serbian cultural society Zora (Dawn) and the Croatian student club Zvonimir, which shared his views on "integral Yugoslavism" (the eventual assimilation of all South Slav cultures into one).
Despite finding like-minded students in Vienna, the city's climate took a toll on Andrić's health. He contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill, then asked to leave Vienna on medical grounds and continue his studies elsewhere, though Hawkesworth believes he may actually have been taking part in a protest of South Slav students that were boycotting German-speaking universities and transferring to Slavic ones. For a time, Andrić had considered transferring to a school in Russia but ultimately decided to complete his fourth semester at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He transferred in early 1914, and continued to publish translations, poems and reviews.