The Bridge Over the Drina Paperback
by Ivo Andric
In the small Bosnian town of Visegrad the stone bridge of the novel's title, built in the sixteenth century on the instruction of a grand vezir, bears witness to three centuries of conflict.
Visegrad has long been a bone of contention between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, but the bridge survives unscathed until 1914, when the collision of forces in the Balkans triggers the outbreak of World War I. The bridge spans generations, nationalities and creeds, silent testament to the lives played out on it.
Radisav, a workman, tries to hinder its construction and is impaled alive on its highest point; beautiful Fata leaps from its parapet to escape an arranged marriage; Milan, inveterate gamble, risks all in one last game on it.
With humour and compassion, Andric chronicles the lives of Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Christians unable to reconcile their disparate loyalties.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 320 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 05/04/1994
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9781860460586
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by Miro
The "Bridge" is a bridge between Islam represented by the Ottomann Empire and the Christian Europe of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite the eventual conflict it shows many nationalities and religions with local autonomy coexisting peacefully for long periods under distant administrations (Istanbul and Vienna respectively). As usual the trouble starts with hard nationalists and religious fundamentalists.
Review by pgmcc
It is claimed on the cover of Andric's (forgive me for not knowing how to put the appropriate accent over the "c")book that, "No better introduction to the study of Balkan and Ottoman history exists". It is not only an introduction to the Balkans, but its description of life in the village of Visegrad (again apologies for the lack of accent on the "s")over a three hundred year span, presents a microcosm for the development of European nations, political thought, modernisation, and even the growth of the individual.Andric traces the growth of Visegrad from the time of the bridge's building in the sixteenth century to the outbreak of World War I. It takes the reader through a series of anecdotes concerning the life of the people who came to live in Visegrad and describes how an ethnic mix built up over the years. The novel is very good at showing how people of different tradition lived side by side and co-operated in times of natural disaster, but how theis neighbours, who have everything in common with regards to where they live, are still divided deep down. These divisions come to the fore when times get tough and distant events impinge on local life.I was sad to come to the end of this book, but unlike other novels I've lamented finishing, The Bridge Over the Drina did not leave me hankering for more. It was complete. It was the right length. Andric said what he wanted to say and said it well.I was tearful as I finished the book that was partly due to the emotions generated by the book and partly by a personal incident. I think if the personal event had not happened I would still have been tearful at the end of the book. (I'm just a big sop!)I can see why this book played a major factor in winning Andric the Nobel Prize for literature.Translated from the Serbo-Croat by Lovett F. Edwards. He did a very good job.BTW I had not seen a picture of the bridge until tonight when I Googled one for this posting. The picture was exactly the same as I had pictured it from reading the book. Full marks to Andric's descriptions (and Edwards' translation).
Review by wandering_star
The Bridge On The Drina is about ordinary life in a small town, over several centuries. However, while the people of Višegrad are like those in any small town, Višegrad itself is not ordinary. It is on the border of the Bosnian and Serb territories, and its bridge - built in the sixteenth century - is an important communications link for the Ottoman Empire.Great historical forces lead to political upheavals, imperfectly understood in the town but with inevitable consequences.Much of the book is focused on the bridge itself, including the terraced area midway across where the townspeople pass the time, and the caravansarai to one side. Serbian villagers try to disrupt the construction of the bridge and are made examples of. Refugees cross the bridge, driven out of their homes. After the shift from the Ottoman to the Austro-Hungarian empire, women start to take the air on the terrace, much to the disgust of the men who used to smoke their waterpipes there. Guards appear and question the people who are crossing.As this shows, the book is interested in the way that the great political changes are experienced in daily life, and especially in the way that the town changed with each wave of new influence - whether that was in a new way of reckoning weights and measures at the market, or a different shape of horseshoe. And the influence goes both ways:<i>"Many of these officials, the fiery Magyar or the haughty Pole, crossed the bridge with reluctance and entered the town with disgust and, at first, were a world apart, like drops of oil in water. Yet a year or so later they could be found sitting for hours on the kapia [terrace], smoking through thick amber cigarette-holders and, as if they had been born in the town, watching the smoke expand and vanish under the clear sky in the motionless air of dusk; or they would sit and wait for supper with the local notables on some green hillock, with plum brandy and snacks and a little bouquet of basil before them, conversing leisurely about trivialities or drinking slowly and occasionally munching a snack as the townsmen knew how to do so well."</i>This extract also shows the poetry of description which is another feature of the book.I don't think I've ever read anything which looked at the sweep of history in such a human way. Highly recommended.
Review by GeoV
I could not begin to review a book of this quality. In lieu of a review, perhaps I could relate a brief story. In the first few pages, Andric speaks of the centre of the bridge, the kapia. He tells of a traveller, to whom the people of Višegrad had been most hospitable, who wrote "their kapia is the heart of the bridge, which is the heart of the town, which must remain in everyone's heart." Since Andric wrote his book, the River Drina has, again, flowed red. Višegrad - and the bridge itself - was the scene of some of the major atrocities of the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s.One morning in Sarajevo, I met an acquaintance. She asked me where I was going that day so, knowing nothing of her background, I said "Višegrad." Her eyes lit up - I was going to visit her town, her bridge. Her face clouded a little as she told me she did not often go there now; it had changed. But, no matter, I was going to her town, her bridge. Only afterwards did someone else explain about her relatives and friends who had died there and what drove her out of her native town - a place she had ever reason to hate but did not. It is hard to imagine a clearer confirmation of what Andric said.The Drina now flows its normal rich green though not all the blood has been washed away; some of the wounds bleed elsewhere. The bridge remains.
Review by clevinger
Visegrad, a town in Bosnia close to the Serbian frontier and the place of upbringing of the author, is the setting for this novel that spans 400 years of its history from 1516 at the height of the Ottoman empire to 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War and shortly before the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The novel deals with the trials and tribulations of the town's multicultural community of Jews, Orthodox Christian Serbians and Muslim Turks whose fortunes wax and wane with the controlling empires. The strength and durability of the eponymous bridge is the story's leitmotif, remaining ever constant in the face of the changing fortunes of man: "Life on the kapia always renews itself despite everything and the bridge does not change with the years or with the centuries or with the most painful turns in human affairs" [p.101].For all its plaudits as a multi-generational epic however, the first third of the book covers almost 360 of those 400 years, up to the Austro-Hungarian invasion in 1878. This section is little more than a series of vignettes, with lightly sketched characters introduced only to meet a violent end a page or two later. In his rush to get through these years, the author makes some lazy assertions that do not stand up to closer scrutiny - during the celebrations of the completion of the bridge "One gipsy child died after eating too much hot halva" [p.66], and the bridge itself "remained as unchanged as the waters that flowed beneath it" [p.71].It is once the Austrians arrive in town that the novel really comes into its own. The clash of cultures is starker than anything the townspeople have had to endure thus far, particularly the Germanic work ethic which "to all of them it seemed that the foreigners were doing this work, as they did all other work, only because they must work at something. Work for them was a necessity and they could not do otherwise" [p.205]. Thus the new occupiers engage in a never ending process of demolishing and rebuilding, taking surveys and censuses, and introducing new regulations for which the townspeople can see no immediate purpose and actively resist where possible. Indeed one of the recurring themes in the history of the town that particularly struck me was the constant resistance of the simple townsfolk to any change whatsoever that is imposed upon them from outside. There is antipathy to the construction of the bridge itself, for the people suffer under the enforced slave labour and can see no good that will come of it. When entreated to join insurrections or offer armed resistance they decline as "the people of Visegrad had never had the reputation of being enthusiastic fighters ... they preferred to live foolishly rather than to die foolishly" [p.113]. The older generation stubbornly refuse to change their national dress, to answer the censuses or to change any of their customs or practices no matter how outdated or inefficient. Jews continue to extend credit "for even despite the fact that banks, mortgage banks and other credit facilities had long existed in the town, the peasants, especially the older ones, liked to commit themselves in the old-fashioned way with the merchants from whom they bought their goods and with whom their fathers before them had contracted obligations" [p.267]. At first glance this resistance to change appears to be the worst kind of myopic parochialism that can be seen in small towns the world over. The new generation that goes off to be educated in Vienna, Budapest and Prague return full of ideas totally alien to their elders. "Modern nationalism will triumph over religious diversities and outmoded prejudice, will liberate our people from foreign influence and exploitation. Then will the national state be born" [p.245] they declare. Pavle Rankovic, an established figure in the community after lifelong hard work finds his own sons talk "baffling and incomprehensible...as if they thought that to live and die in present conditions was no better than to spend their lives like brigands in the mountains" [p.259]. Lotte the hotelier, who had previously been in such command of her business and family, recalls the time when "everyone was moving in the same direction as she was; work and family. Everyone was in his right place and there was a place for everyone" but now laments that "the present generation attached more importance to its views on life than to life itself" [p.258]. However as events unfold we begin to see some justification to their forebodings. The outbreak of war between Austria and Serbia brings "the first blows of a great terror, with arrests and killings without order or justice" [p.295] and for the first time war comes to Visegrad. Suddenly "the people were divided into the persecuted and those who persecuted them ... As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief" [p.282]. The effect on the town is catastrophic "In a few minutes the business quarter, based on centuries of tradition, was wiped out" [p.283]. Now the nostalgia for simpler times where everyone knew their place no longer seems irrational or self-serving, but an astute acknowledgement that it is the only way a community of different religions and ethnicity could possibly live together: "there had always been concealed enmities and jealousies and religious intolerance, coarseness and cruelty, but there had also been courage and fellowship and a feeling for measure and order which restrained all these instincts ... and submitted them to the general interest of life in common" [p.283]. Poor Pavle Rankovic, a leading Serb figure hitherto respected in the community, is imprisoned like a common criminal and is forced to consider the bitter irony that "everyone teaches you and urges you to work and to save, the Church, the authorities and your own common sense. You listen and live prudently, in fact you do not live at all, but work and save and are burdened with cares; and so your whole life passes. Then all of a sudden the whole thing turns upside down" [p.305] and he loses everything. The Bridge Over The Drina is thus an excellent study in the perils of multiculturalism as experienced by the inhabitants of the Balkan region. The quote on the front cover of my edition declares "no better introduction to the study of Balkan and Ottoman history exists" and this novel was the major contributing factor to the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to the author. However non-Balkan readers should exercise caution in proclaiming themselves experts on the Balkan experience on the strength of one novel. For an interesting antidote to this hubris, seek out the short essay "Living in the Shadow of the Bridge" by Marina Antic.Finally the author attempts a denouement to his narrative with the partial destruction of the bridge by the Austrians at the beginning of World War I. But this left me with a feeling of incompleteness not merely because the bridge was in fact easily repaired but because so much more has happened in the town since then - four more years of the Great War, thirty three years of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and four years of Nazi occupation before the book was even published in 1945. Post-war there was a generation of socialism under Tito and the Bosnian War of the 90's. All this means that the novel's strongest element is its depiction of life in the Austro-Hungarian empire around the turn of the 20th century, which is exactly when the author was living in Visegrad. But that does not detract from its worth as a fine novel that undoubtedly broadens the horizons of the reader.