In May, Peter Handke was awarded the “Ivo Andrić Prize” by the Andrić Institute in Višegrad for the best book published in Serbia or the Republic of Srpska during 2020. The award was for the novel “The Second Sword: May Story,” translated by Žarko Radaković and published by Laguna Press in Belgrade. (Laguna will publish Žarko’s and my book “We: On Friendship”—Knjiga O Prijateljstvu: Mi— later this summer.)
Ivo Andrić received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 for his work that includes the novel The Bridge on the Drina, one of my favorite books.
Here the cover of “The Second Sword” in Žarko’s translation:
My translation of the short speech Handke gave after receiving the award:
7 May 2021
…in Serbian: I will speak in German. That is my language. Excuse me.
These terrible wars in the Balkans at the end of the century, as absurd as it sounds, had one good outcome: for the first time I read Ivo Andrić closely. And while earlier visits to Yugoslavia had always been on the Adriatic coast, I now travelled into the interior, where there is no sea, where there are only rivers. Like the Drina. And I came to Višegrad.
Ivo Andrić may be the last writer from the 19th Century in whose work the epic energy of Balzac, of Flaubert, and perhaps above all Stendhal, had a final great, tender, and at the same time scathing impetus.
I think that, like Stendhal, Ivo Andrić was a loving child. And always unhappy. Especially in the night. Reading his Notes from the Night, which have been translated into German for the first time, one thinks: Why did Andrić suffer so much? Why did he write that down?
There is a great contradiction between his day’s work and his night’s work.
I am very thankful, not only for the literature of Ivo Andrić, but also for that of Miloš Crnjanski, also for the work of Meša Selimovic, who is especially important for Bosnia, for Sarajevo.
And I am sure—I surely won’t be able to express what I want to say very well—I am sure, whether they are Orthodox, Muslim, Croatian, Serbian writers, I am sure that we, we as writers who are focused on peace and rhythm, on music and on colors and on our shared intentions, that it is not too late for us to come to understand one another, we who are embarked on the great, wonderful expedition that always leads into the Uncertain: literature.
I say this while thinking about the Bosniak writers, about the Albanian writers in Kosovo . . .
I am certain that were I to see them individually, I could come to an understanding with them.
I would like to invite them, as soon as possible—because I am no longer young—to sit together at a table, or perhaps not at a table, perhaps better on the grass or on the shore of a river. And we could, together. . .yes, be together.
Literature may deal with anger, and with rage (which can be good at times), but never with hate. And that’s an important difference.
And finally, I would like to say, I want to greet the other prize recipient, the great Serbian writer Milovan Danojlić. He writes wonderful letters to me. He wrote one of the foundational books of Yugoslavian literature, I say now, Moj dragi Petroviću. I want to greet him, a man who was attentive to others, who was a model to me for attentiveness to others, across the distance between Višegrad and his French exile in Poitiers.
Alright, that is everything.