Thirst by Ivo Andric, 1934
The magic trick:
Employing a brilliant structure that allows the reader to consider several different thirsts caused by the war
If this summer-reading project has taught me nothing else it’s that structure is everything in the short-story game. The best stories are ones with a carefully considered flow. That might seem an inherently contradictory concept. It’s not a contradiction; it’s just very difficult to pull off, which I guess makes sense, given that good short stories are very, very difficult to write.
Anyway, “Thirst” fits the bill in the structure department. The story travels quickly between protagonists, allowing the reader to understand the effects of the war from several points of view. Each character is suffering his or her own plight, or thirst.
The wife is an outsider. She wants nothing to do with this war. She thirsts for the normalcy of her old life or the dream life she imagined when she married.
The commander is physically and mentally drained by the war. He is trying to tie up the loose ends so that he can proceed with his life of comfort and passion with his new wife.
Zhivan thirsts for relief from the agony he feels at having to choose country over his childhood.
And finally, Lazar is the picture of literal thirst. He needs water, health, and freedom. He is the force through which all other characters thirst. The entire country thirsts.
War is hell. No one is content – winners nor losers. The country is a wreck. Revolution, righteous as it may have been, has only resulted in more tragedy. The structure of the story helps bring forth all those points. And that’s quite a trick on Andric’s part.
The night weighed, denser and heavier. It was no longer one in the chain of days, but a desert of dark time in which the last living man on earth was crying for help without hope and without relief of one merciful drop of water. In the whole of God’s great world, with all its rivers, rains, and dews there was no longer even one teardrop of water left nor a living hand to carry it. The waters had dried up and men had rotted away. There remained in the universe just the one weak rush-light of her own senses as the only witness at all.