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The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare
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Jul 15, 2009

Read in January, 2007

The Three-Arched Bridge, written in Albania between 1976 and 1978, is based on a myth of sacrifice and creation, which also appears in other works by Kadare, and is present in different versions throughout the Balkans.

The legend is about three brothers, all masons, whose efforts to build a castle were in vain because everything built during daytime was destroyed by an unknown force at night. After having unsuccessfully worked for a long time, the masons are told by a wise man that the construction will endure only if a human life is sacrificed, so the brothers decide to immure one of their brides in the foundations. The sacrifice should strike the first wife to come in the morning with the midday meal for her husband, and the youngest wife is consequently walled up alive, one breast left out so she can feed her infant even after her death.

According to the narrator of The Three-Arched Bridge, the monk Gjon, the kernel of the legend was the idea that all labor requires some kind of sacrifice, and the spilled blood is in fact sweat. But the legend becomes reality when the construction of a bridge demands a human life, and a mason is found immured in the bridge piers. Thus, the notion of sacrifice, which is at the core of the story, can be read in several ways: as a legend, as a crime done in the name of the bridge, as the idea that all human orders are founded on blood, and at the end of the novel, when the monk, author of “this chronicle, [which:] like the bridge itself, may demand a sacrifice,” announces his own sacrifice, as a commentary on the essence of great art, always built on the sacrifice of the artist.
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