My grandfather was born in Hreljin in 1923, when it was Yugoslavia and in what is now Croatia. When I heard about Yugoslavian Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina, I had hoped for a glimpse of what life was like in my ancestor’s homeland during a tumultuous time. Although my grandfather’s home town is far from the Bosnia-Serbia border on which this novel takes place, it was still an interesting look at the complex history of the Balkans. I did not really enjoy reading the book, but it was somewhat interesting.
The Bridge on the Drina tells the story of a bridge near the (now) Bosnian town of Visegrad, a bridge built by the Grand Vizier of the Turkish empire who had crossed the Drina river as a child kidnapped. From the 1500s, Andric follows the bridge into modernity, with glimpses of life through the centuries. It especially illustrates the roll of the bridge in both healing gaps among the people as well as widening them. There is violence in the book, some quite gruesome. There are racial and religious arguments. Because of the history of the Turkish empire as well as the Austrian occupation, there are many groups that inhabit the town of Visegrad on its banks.
Most intriguing to scholars of the Balkan era (as well as the most dull part of the book for those of us who are not) was the account town as it entered modernity. The conflict between Austria-Hungary’s values and those of the historical inhabitants was poignant. As people fostered a specific identity (Bosnian, Serbian, Christian, Muslim), the violence and conflict only grew. As the book came to a close, the symbolic bridge, which had always been a tentative bridge between the cultures, likewise met its ultimate conflicts. I enjoyed that symbolism, and I only wish I had found the book more interesting throughout.
The reality is that I found myself utterly bored with The Bridge on the Drina. There were moments of appalling excitement when I couldn’t put it down. But in general, I found myself bored with the lack of a general story line. Since the players in the city changed with every century, it was hard to follow a cohesive thread that interested me. It is not often that I read a novel and find myself thinking, in the last fifty pages, that I had no concern with how it ended and how the novel got to that point. I could have quit at any point. I kept reading, however. Now I can tell you more about the symbolism of the bridge, but I cannot claim it was a delightful read.
Andric was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961 with this book as one of the main reasons behind the award. It is an impressive book, but it was not one that I enjoyed reading all that much.
I have a lovely, very good condition of this book that I’m willing to giveaway. If you think you’re interested in reading it, I’d love to send it to you. Leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch.