Review #42: The Bridge on the Drina

The story of a stone structure supporting an entire nation

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The Bridge on the Drina

The protagonist of Ivo Andrić’s book The Bridge on the Drina never speaks. That’s because it’s a 180-meter-long bridge. In this interesting take on four hundred years of Bosnian history, the Nobel-prize-winning author discusses cultural, historical, regional, and religions events within the context of a large stone bridge built across the Drina River in present day Bosnia and Herzegovina. The actual bridge spanned the river in 1577, and the story takes the reader from a point six decades before its construction up until the start of World War I.

In the early sixteenth century, Ottoman forces round up Serbian children as part of a regular “blood tribute.” One of those young slaves grows up to become a Grand Vizier and a great Ottoman military leader, but suffers from chest pains that started when he was kidnapped and ferried across the Drina River near the town of Višegrad decades earlier. To remove the pain, he builds a majestic bridge at the site of his river crossing (it works). As the gift of a Grand Vizier, the bridge comes to play an immediate and important role in the nearby town, a role it maintains for the next 350 years and beyond.

Over the centuries, the townspeople experience war, love, religious conflicts, political strife, sudden changes in national leadership, and the impact of events occurring hundreds of miles away. As a major link between the East and West, the bridge remains a focal point of all of those events, until its role (and the town’s related role) is diminished with the rise of late-nineteenth-century technology and socialist changes. The bridge and the people who live near it endure plagues, wars, floods, and tyrants. When an explosion rips away a section of the bridge in 1914, it is an apt parallel of the explosion ripping through the Serbs and Turks living in that area of Bosnia.

The Bridge on the Drina is an excellent work, transforming a lesson in European history into a living, breathing narrative of the people who experienced that history firsthand. The book is a work of fiction, but it communicates in summary form the true core issues that permeated Bosnian society from the sixteenth century up to the first War to End All Wars. Like the book’s river-spanning edifice, the story is one that is meant to endure for centuries.

The Well-Read Man Project

For more information about this book, visit its Well-Read Man Project page.

Amazon.com

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