My upcoming novella, The Pillar, is set in 15th century Bosnia (and now available for preorder!). I was inspired to write the story when I spent a few days in Bosnia & Herzegovina last November. Why Bosnia?
Well, the country is certainly beautiful enough and interesting enough to visit in any case. And the people are wonderful. Seriously–if you get a chance, go.
But I also have two sort of oblique ties to the country. One is my abiding affection for Bosnia’s neighbor, Croatia. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Zagreb twice and visit another couple of times. Bosnia shares a language with Croatia (more or less), and the nations’ histories have been closely entwined. Culturally, they have much in common, although there are some interesting differences too. For instance, Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries (including during the time period in which The Pillar takes place), and roughly half of Bosnians are Muslim. Croatians, however, are mostly Catholic, and that country seems to have had a greater influence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italians.
My other loose tie with Bosnia has to do with family legend. My grandfather was from Trieste, Italy, which is at the modern Slovenian and Croatian borders. His father, the story goes, was a member of the Archduke’s royal guard. Which Archduke, you ask? Well, this guy.
I like to think that on that day 100 years ago, my great-grandfather was not on duty. Maybe he was on vacation. I have no idea if he was even in Sarajevo for the visit, although this was the time period when he was a guard.
Franz Ferdinand had been warned that some people in Sarajevo were unhappy with him, but he went anyway. There wasn’t much security. Someone threw a bomb at his motorcade, injuring several people but not the Archduke. Franz continued on to the City Hall, where he gave a speech.
Beautiful building, isn’t it? It was nearly destroyed in the (recent) war, but was reopened in May of this year.
After the speech, Franz decided to visit the people who’d been wounded earlier. Under still light security, his driver took a wrong turn near the Latin Bridge.
That guy in the photo has his back to the bridge. Franz’s car was facing the camera. And Gavrilo Princip was waiting there with a gun. He shot and killed the Archduke and the Archduke’s wife. And although the political situation was actually very complicated, this assassination is credited as being a major factor in the start of World War I.
Princip, incidentally, was only 19. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but died less than 4 years later from tuberculosis.
I don’t know what happened to my great-grandfather. He’s a mysterious figure. I do know he never made it to the US. On the other hand, my grandfather, his mother, and his sisters came to New York not too long after WWI ended. My grandfather was still a boy.
When I stood on that street in Sarajevo last year, I couldn’t help but wonder if my relative had stood there too, almost exactly 100 years earlier. It was a weird feeling.
So, that’s why Bosnia. Over the next weeks I’ll post more photos of this fascinating place.