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The Bridge on the Drina (Phoenix Fiction) Paperback – August 15, 1977
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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Text: English, Serbo-Croation (translation)
From the Back Cover
A great stone bridge built three centuries ago in the heart of the Balkans by a Grand Vezir of the Ottoman Empire dominates the setting of Ivo Andric's novel. A vivid depiction of the suffering history has imposed upon the people of Bosnia from the late sixteenth century to the beginning of World War I, 'The Bridge on the Drina' earned Andric the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961.
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A full plate indeed. All this interplay is masterfully crafted through a variety of individual and community stories. I read it in two sessions having to pause to reflect and consider so many issues that are raised. I have already recommended this to four friends. I wonder what I miss in translation,
but I am glad to have read it. Double glad that read a book from apart of the world with which I was unfamiliar. Though from a time past I found many issues germane to our current time. Do yourself a favor and read it.
People often speak of "the soul of a nation". This is exactly what Andrić conveys in "The Bridge on the Drina": he tells of countless lives, countless souls experiencing love and hate and laughter and heartbreak, which together form the great soul of his beloved country (to him, this was Yugoslavia). Somehow, his story is both as broad as a nation and as quiet and simple as that nation's most unassuming inhabitants. It is as luxuriously metaphoric as it is stark and realistic. Its flavor is uniquely Serbian; its words are universal. Reading this book is like living; there is no emotion, no experience which it does not contain.
That enduring phlegmatic balance, that provincial tranquillity, would last even through the decadence of Ottoman authority and the incorporation of Bosnia into another multi-cultural empire - Austria-Hungary - but it would meet its destruction with the intrusion of modernity, nationalism, and World War 1. The bridge itself would be mined and demolished in the War. Though Ivo Andric depicts the exploitation and tyranny of the Ottomans, then the crass invasive bureaucracy of the Austrians, with caustic realism, it's plain that he pines for the old days and old ways, that his vision of history is utterly conservative and nostalgic.
What's remarkably fine about this measured history is Andric's ability to share insights into the mentalities of all parties, Muslims and Jews as respectfully as Christian, rich and poor, successes and failures, those who adapt and those who don't. Like the bridge that resounds to the footsteps of all with equanimity and carries all traffic licit or illicit impartially, Andric depicts the virtuous and the wicked with open affection for their humanity. A barely-fictionalized biography of a stone bridge, 314 pages of small print, might sound like a challenge to any reader's attention span, but Andric makes it both emotionally affecting and historically enlightening. No other book, I think, can evoke the distinct realities of Balkan history, or elucidate the psychology of the post-Yugoslav calamities as vividly as this one.
For once, I urge readers not to skip the introduction by William McNeill, which outlines Bosnian history with helpful brevity. I wonder also at the authority of this translation by Lovett Edwards. It reads gracefully enough in English, but there are loopholes in it, as noted by some earlier reviewers. The biggest loophole is the identification of the Muslims of Visegrad as "Turks". Ethnic Turks they certainly were not. Rather they were the descendants of Slavic converts to Islam, chiefly from among the heretic Bogomil Christians. Since I can't read Serbo-Croatian, I'm uncertain whether Andric intended us to accept that the converts identified themselves as Turks or whether the translator simply brushed the issue aside. It is an important distinction, made important by the violence of ethnic and religious "cleansing" in the Bosnia of the 21st Century.
Chiefly it's the author's love of the place and the people - stone and water, permanence and transience - that make "The Bridge on the Drina" a beautiful reading experience.
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Please be advised this book is historical fiction, not history.Read more