In a nutshell, it's a slice of life story set in an Istanbul prison during the Ottoman Empire.The main character is friar Petar, who gets mistaken for a spy and ends up in a prison, nicknamed "the damned yard" by its inmates. He stays there for two months, meeting various people such as prison warden Karadjoz, curious and paranoid Jew Haim, and rich young man accused for conspiring against the Sultan Ćamil. Somewhere around the middle of the book, Petar (and the reader) are told the story of Cem Sultan, a historical character.The book is notable for its ring structure, and using several different narrators throughout the book.
Tropes appearing in Prokleta Avlija:
- Acrofatic: Karadjoz is stated to be grossly overweight, yet incredibly agile. We never get to see him in action, though.
- Bad Liar: Zaim, the guy talking about his made-up past wives.
- Book-Ends: The book begins and ends after friar Petar's funeral at his native monastery.
- Chromosome Casting: Every single named character in the book is male.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Karadjoz and Ćamil, to a degree.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Discussed, Haim states that, after Ćamil attacked the guards, they probably beat him to death for that.
- Foregone Conclusion: The book starts with Petar's funeral, which is stated to have happened years after he's been released for prison.
- Flash Back: The whole book is basically friar Rastislav having a flashback about friar Petar telling him about his experience in prison.
- Insane Troll Logic: Karadjoz sometimes uses this. We are given a story in which an inmate being interrogated claims he is innocent, to which Karadjoz replies: "Too bad, everyone here is guilty, and we need an innocent one; you'll have to stay". A couple of weeks later, the family of another, rich prisoner ask Karadjoz to release him, claiming he was innocent. Karadjoz refuses, claiming that "nowadays, we release the guilty ones and keep the innocent ones imprisoned". Afterwards, he summons the first inmate and releases him, saying: "We've got another innocent one now, we don't need you any more. You may leave".
- Manipulative Bastard: Karadjoz. His unpredictable behavior helps him get any information he needs.
- Only Sane Man: This is how Haim sees Petar.
- Sibling Rivalry: At the beginning the chapter about Cem Sultan and his brother, Bayezid (who were antagonistic themselves), Andrić introduces us to a little legend about two brothers, who are constantly reborn and hurled into conflict throughout the history: the older one, who is down-to-earth and practical, and the younger one, who is intellectual, artistic, but has no practical skills whatsoever. According to the author, the older brother always prevails. Cem and Bayezid are only one incarnation of the brothers.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Ćamil. He is one of the most innocent characters in the book, but ends up either dead or sent to an insane asylum.
- Torture Always Works: Deconstructed. When the two psychologically torture Ćamil (trying to get information about a nonexistent conspiracy), he ends up emotionally broken down, and they find out nothing.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out Ćamil's exact fate, but we are given two possibilities.
- Wretched Hive: The prison itself.Burglars, thieves, professional gamblers; con men and blackmailers; the poor who cheat and steal in order to survive; drunkards, who forgot to pay for their drinks, or started fights; miserable, pale people who seek in drugs what they couldn't find in their lives; incorrigibly vicious old men and young men incorrigibly ruined by vice; people with different twisted urges in habits which they don't hide, and when they try to hide them, they fail...