Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review : The Bridge On The Drina - Ivo Andric 8*



Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Andric's novel (which seems to be titled either 'bridge on' or 'bridge over', my copy is the latter) tells the story of the bridge at Visegrad, from its inception in 1566, the completion 5 years later, and then various tales of life around the bridge up to the First World War.

The bridge is intended as a unifying point for communications, trade and society by its builder, the Vizier who was separated from his mother at the Drina river crossing. As the story of the bridge progresses however we see that it is used as as a checkpoint, border crossing and even a place of execution, all uses that the Vizier would not have wished for.

Ivo Andric writes in a wonderfully poetic style, it is a dense work with little dialogue, but soon the reader becomes lulled to the pattern and flow of Andric's prose, it is like having the wise village elder telling carefully remembered tales around the camp fire. Visegrad is made up of people spilt along both secular and religious lines, but in Andric's writing they mostly manage to rub along together, a peasant farmer is a peasant farmer whether he is Christian, Muslim or Jew. Various outside influences in the bridge's history though bring the people living around the bridge into conflict.

Andric seems to present the bridge as a force for possible good, and also presents some of the tools of modernity, newspapers and university education to name two, as things which separate and divide people. This is not to say though that the author wears rose tinted spectacles when considering Serbo-Croat history, he presents the past in terms that are vivid, harsh, beautiful and cruel.

The Bridge Over The Drina is fictionalised history, his large cast of characters may never have existed, but they appear as real as if he had interviewed them for the novel. This is a great work with beautiful writing and a host of tales of everyday life made interesting and enthralling.

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