Ron's Reviews > The Bridge on the Drina

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić
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Apr 30, 12


What immediately strikes a reader is that this is an old-fashioned kind of modern novel, with an omniscient author describing a broad sweep of social history. The location happens to be a town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia, but there's a universality of theme despite the specifics of geography, cultures, politics, and historical events. Andric seems to be saying that life has been like this for human societies everywhere. We come in all manner of dispositions into this world, and this is the way we grow up, flourish, grow old, and interact with each other, making us both individuals and members of a community.

The book, covering the centuries between the building of a bridge in the 1500s to its destruction during WWI, is a tapestry of short stories, some sad, some joyful, some romantic, some humorous, some ironic, some tragic. Each character is vividly described, as are the changing times and the shifting political fortunes that have their effect on the town and its citizens. First part of the Ottoman Empire, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Visegrad (the author's hometown) remains home to Muslims, Christians, and Jews, living together in relative peace as long as decisions in far-off capitols leave them undisturbed. The tone of the book, however, especially its ending, reflects the time in which it was written - the years of WWII when Andric's life as a diplomat was suspended and his country was occupied by German armies.

The final scene portrays a devastation and a total disruption of the town's continuity, while holding out a humanistic hope that life continues untouched elsewhere. Readers who are inheritors of age-old rivalries and keepers of memories of Balkan atrocities may no doubt take exception to the particular slant of this telling of history, finding in it glaring examples of bias. But the Nobel Prize Committee that chose Andric for its Literature Prize saw the novel correctly for what it is to the rest of the world, a story about the endurance of humans in the face of human folly.
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