Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Bridge Over the Drina - Ivo Andrić

One of the master pieces of the twentieth century literature. I had been having the book for last 10 years and haven't read it until now.  I like books that cover a large canvas and period in history.

The Bridge over the Drina was built in the 16th century,  on the orders of Grand Vizier Mehmed Paša Sokolović.a Bosnian soldier, who moved up the ranks in the Ottoman Emperor to reach the all powerful post of the Grand Wizier. The order was issued and the construction begun. These were hard times. People forced under slavery made to work on the completion of the bridge which took nearly 6 years. There were attempts of sabotage, which was dealt with cruel punishment.  Having completed, it continue to attract attention as it become the center of every activities of the town of Višegrad. The town sprout around the bridge, as this became the meeting point of lovers, of spies, of merchants, of old people during their evening walks. Over the years, the control was moved from the Turkish to the Austro-Hungarian empire as the political fortunes of the Balkans went through major changes.

The bridge is the symbol of many things. Its the demonstration of the might of the ottoman empire, the Turkish influence on the eastern Balkan which withstood all the trouble and turmoil for more than 3 centuries. Its is also the history of the Balkan states, divided between three believes and multiple conquering forces. The Islam with the huge Turkish control and connection, the Catholic  Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Orthodox Serbian. Bosnia, a connecting point or rather the 'bridge' of these three regularly fighting civilizations. The Bridge, thus us the meeting point of the East and West, the Islam and the Christianity, the developed modern Europe to the Mystic East.

For a subject with cover more than 400 years, it has to be kaleidoscopical. We move from one generation to the next, one historical event to the next, one ruler over the other but remain truthful to the ever-lasting monument, which not only bridges the civilisation of east and the west, but the story from one century to the other. In these pages we come across a whole lot of memorable characters,  communities and often unconnected events, which on a larger scale is the history of the Eastern Europe for 400 years,  It's an interesting contrast of the ever-lasting, constant, all enduring bridge against the flurry of changes that takes place in the town and the world in general . The bridge is the omnipresent force. It was always a center of attraction, from technological leap in the 16th century to the exotic location in the 20th century.

The world was changing around this time. As the 20th century dawned, the power of Austro-Hungarian empire was on the raise. The new ways of thinking influenced by the Bolsheviks were a hit among the youths. The Bosnian young, who went abroad and studied in the universities of Vienna and other parts of the world, came in with the fresh thoughts and energy. The second decade of the century saw larger levels of activities among these youth and it was during these days, the Heir apparent of Austro-hungarian empire was murdered in Sarajevo, resulting in the out break of the Worls War I. Višegrad , close to the capital of  Bosnia, had the highest amount of devastation. The town was deserted as it was occupied by the forces and large scale murder of Serbs were targeted. A few who refused to leave were victims of the attacks from both the sides. Bomb, shells and stray gun fire took away the remains of the lives. To complete the devastation, the once mighty and ever lasting bridge was destroyed by a bomb, bringing down the fine balance of the ethnic and religious fabric of a region.

An outstanding work of fiction by a master story teller. The events and the people who come and go through out the book are the real symbols of the era. Everything revolves around the bridge, as a catalyst. Ivo Andric, with the clever use of the lasting monument, gives us a gem of a story.

Ivo Andric, wrote the book during World War II while he was under house arrest in Serbia. It was published in 1945 who went on to win the Nobel prize in 1961, largely for this work. Epical, such a sensitive portrayal of the people, with acute vision and sensibility. An extraordinary book.. Stunning.

The Bridge over the Drina  (1945)

Ivo Andrić ( translated from  Serbo-Croat by Lovett F Edwards)

The Harwill Press

314 Pages
The Bridge , Wiki Entry , Independent

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