- The Book of Vaso Čubrilović
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as i awoke that morning in the rented room of my exile, I knew at the first wincing glance of light that I needed to go about my work in an entirely different way. How did I know? The inner pinprick of human inspiration, or [End Page 151] the outer touch of the divine kind, transmuted into morning light. Or was there perhaps a secret note in the dream I have by now forgotten—along with the date of the day into which it so seamlessly transitioned? Days of inspiration are like dreams of flight! It was the autumn of 1954, that I’m sure of, for it is still the autumn of 1954, though I can hear the opening intonation of winter in the dry crunch of trod-upon linden leaves beneath my hospital window. My wounds are healing slowly. Two wars have already traversed my life, leaving behind Panzer marks on the dull soil. Has it really been, could it really be, a full forty years since my improbable brothers and I started the first of these wars? To think I have spent the better part of those nebulous years writing a biography, lost in the labyrinth of my futile labor up until that morning’s fateful awakening.
I rubbed away the colored spots that flowered in the valley of my perception, my tongue beginning its semiconscious movement from molar to molar, tapping each tooth, a habit of inspection acquired during five terrible years in Habsburg prisons. My mind’s unblinking eye was still kept on this new path I had glimpsed, upon waking, by pure and mysterious chance, a mountain path to the sea. The leaves seemed afloat on the twigs of the lone branch seen through a bright window, a hunchbacked shadow drifting by the other, curtained one. Dust danced in a broad beam of sunlight, as dust is wont to do. The bed groaned under the release of my weight and inspiration alone warmed my limbs in that autumnal room. The more wakeful I became—showering in the reluctant steam, shaving before the rust-spotted mirror—the more certain I was that writing the life stories of the Sarajevo Six, of which I was the fairy-tale seventh, was as much beyond my ability as writing the lives of saints; that the task ironically required not the sober eye of the biographer, but the vague hypnotic hands of a magician.
When I think of it (and I have thought of it always, whether on a prison cot or hospital bed), there was a strong tinge of absurdity and artifice about that entire day in 1914. The absurdity of chance and the artifice of fate: first, the ominous date of the Archduke’s arrival, on the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo; then Neđo Čabrinović’s bomb that managed to wound twenty but barely scraped the presumptive emperor; and, most implausible of all, the return passage of the royal car and the confused driver’s seemingly conspiratorial (but in conspiracy only with a badly given direction) turn into the wrong street, where Gavrilo Princip, whom fate had picked out among us, happened to wait infused with the vitality of chaos, happened to fire blindly into the backing car, and so happened to change the course, as they say, of unmappable history.
It may not be known to the general public, all those who have not pursued with fervor the official record of our criminal and immortal act (both [End Page 152] adjectives deserve to be in the heavy shackles of quotation marks), that I was among the last to join the core group of conspirators. Moreover, I formed my noble and undying belief in Serbian autonomy and the reunification of all Serb lands quite apart from the others, at the knee and lectern of my brother, whose indirect participation in the plot I was unaware of at the time of joining: he merely provided room and board for three of the assassins, and therefore his only crime was hospitality, for which he was nevertheless executed. In fact, I only met...