by Borisav Stanković
Translated by Milo Yelesiyevich
Borisav Stanković's classic novel, Bad Blood (Nečista krv, 1910), tells the tragic story of Sofka, a woman of otherworldly beauty, who marries a twelve-year-old boy in order to save her family from financial ruin. Bad Blood is regarded as the first Serbian psychological novel, and it left a profound influence on writers as diverse as Meša Selimovć, Ivo Andrić, Dobrica Ćosić and Vuk Drašković.
Sofka, a legendary beauty, enters a society that is going to destroy her. Her apparently civilized parents prove themselves to be the villains of her fate when they arrange, for a price, an incestuous marriage into a primitive country family to protect their own selfish interests. Only love and death manage to hold the world together. Sofka in the end takes her revenge on life by giving birth to three stunted, semi-retarded children, who, she earnestly hopes, will curse her name one day and regret the fact that they were ever born.
Borisav Stanković belongs to the tradition of Serbian storytellers who described the regions where they were born and raised, which in his case was Vranje, an obscure south Serbian market town close to Macedonia. Under Turkish rule, a Serbian upper class had formed which upheld the unquestioned tradition of Turkish feudal and caste relations between the estate owners and the serfs. This class dictated a patriarchal way of life to the extended family with coarse mediaeval laws and customs that not only regulated morality, but forged the chains of psychic slavery as well.
Stanković was born in 1876. His family was once wealthy, but had long since fallen on hard times. His father died when he was five, and his mother when he was seven. He was raised by his grandmother, Zlata, who enchanted him with stories from Vranje’s past; these tales became the source of most of his short stories and novels.
The world that was once Stanković’s native Vranje, the world his grandmother depicted in her tales, began to change, and lose its character after the uprisings of 1875-1878. The upheavals accompanying the liberation from Turkish rule changed forever Vranje’s feudal society. The agrarian system collapsed, and ties with Turkish commerce, which had been the source of wealth and esteem for the principal mercantile families of the town, were severed.
Oriental traditions collided with Western European ideals. New ideas entered the Balkans: the equality and freedom of individuals, private property in land and commerce, and profit. Former serfs clamored to own the land that they had once worked. The feudal overlords who were unable to cope with the new circumstances, including the former Orthodox elite, abandoned Vranje and sought refuge among their old friends, the Turks. Caste distinctions of gentry and serf disintegrated as their feudal economic basis faded, but as Stanković so poignantly dramatized, they remained in the people’s psyche for a long time to come.