The Bridge on the Drina
|The Bridge on the Drina|
|Original title||Na Drini ćuprija
На Дрини ћуприја
|Translator||Lovett F. Edwards|
|Publisher||University of Chicago Press|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|LC Classification||PZ3.A5735 Br 1977 PG1418.A6|
The Bridge on the Drina (Serbo-Croatian: 'Na Drini ćuprija', На Дрини ћуприја, [na drǐːni tɕǔprija]), sometimes restyled as The Bridge Over the Drina, is a novel by Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić. Andrić wrote the novel while living quietly in Belgrade during World War II, publishing it in 1945. Andrić was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his entire literary work (of which this novel is best known) in 1961.
The Bridge on the Drina revolves around the town of Višegrad and the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge over the Drina river. The story spans about four centuries during the Ottoman and subsequently Austro-Hungarian administrations of the region and describes the lives, destinies and relations of the local inhabitants, with a particular focus on Muslims and Orthodox Christians living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the beginning of the book Andrić focuses on a small Serb boy taken from his mother as part of the levy of Christian subjects of the Sultan (Devşirme). Andrić describes how the mothers of these children follow their sons wailing, until they reach a river where the children are taken across by ferry and the mothers can no longer follow. That child becomes a Muslim and, taking a Turkish name (Mehmed, later Mehmed-paša Sokolović), is promoted quickly and around the age of 60 becomes Grand Vizier. As Grand Vizier for almost fifteen years, he plays a crucial role in the imperial expansion campaigns of three sultans. Yet, that initial moment of separation from his mother still haunts him and he decides to order the building of a bridge at a point on the river where he was parted from her.
Already then, even before it has been built, Andrić is portraying the bridge as something with the power not merely to bridge a river but to heal divisions; yet it is quickly to become clear that in this role it is a flawed unifier.
The construction work starts in 1566 and five years later the bridge is completed (together with a caravanserai or han), signifying a very important link between the Sarajevo pashaluk (the territory of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the rest of the Turkish empire, and replacing the unreliable boat transport across the river. The reader learns how serfs are forced to build it and how they variously strike and sabotage the construction site because of poor working conditions.
The middle of the bridge, called "the kapija"—the gate, is wider, and it quickly becomes a popular meeting place for people from Višegrad and the surrounding area in a relaxed mood which is still typical of present-day Turkey and most of the Balkans. The reader also learns that there are no tensions between the Muslims (referred to as Turks throughout the novel), Orthodox Christians (the Serbs), Sephardic Jews and the Roma people. Rather, they stand in solidarity with one another during the regular floods of the Drina.
About a century later, Habsburg Austria reclaims what is territories of present-day Hungary, Croatia and Bosnia and thus a crisis within the Ottoman Empire begins. Due to lack of state funds, the caravanserai is abandoned, while the bridge project is completed, so well-constructed that it stands for centuries without maintenance.
The first nationalist tensions arise in the 19th century when the Serbian Uprising in the neighbouring Belgrade Pashaluk (the territory of present-day northern Serbia) begins. Even so, neighbour never raises a hand against neighbour; instead soldiers from all parts of the Empire establish a guard-point at the gate and behead suspect Serbs and potential rebels.
After the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Serbia and Montenegro become fully independent countries while the Austro-Hungarian Empire receives a right to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina and thus turn it into a protectorate. Since the completion of the bridge, time has seemed to stop, and the local people have many difficulties in accepting the numerous changes that come with Austrian rule. A barrack is built at the site of the caravanserai and the town suddenly experiences a substantial influx of foreigners. People from all parts of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom arrive, opening their businesses and bringing the customs of their native regions with them. A narrow gauge railway line is built to Sarajevo and the significance of the bridge is soon reduced, but not completely, as will become apparent subsequently.
Thanks to this modernisation, children begin to be educated in Sarajevo, and later some of them continue their studies in Vienna. They bring home ideas from the rest of the world and, along with the newspapers that are now available in Višegrad, nationalistic ideas emerge, especially among Serbs. Another "contribution" to these changes is the crisis of the year 1908, when troubles in Turkey give Austria an excellent opportunity to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina formally. During this Annexation Crisis, it becomes evident that Austria sees Serbia and its royal dynasty, the Karađorđevićs, as a serious obstacle to their further conquest of the eastern Balkans. The Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, when Turkey was almost completely pushed out of the Balkans, do not help to foster better relations between Serbs and Austrians, as they undermine the significance of the middle span of the bridge, with its friendly inter-ethnic relationships and camaraderie. Many young Serbian men pass over it at night and smuggle themselves across the border to Serbia. The reader never learns if the most famous of them, Gavrilo Princip, passes across this bridge, although historically it would have been a possibility.
In 1914, Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, thereby causing the outbreak of the First World War. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, and the Austrians begin to incite the non-Serbian population of Višegrad against the Serbs living in the town. The bridge with the old road to Sarajevo suddenly regains its importance, as the railway line is not adequate to transport all the materiel and soldiers who are preparing for the invasion of Serbia. However, the Austrians are swiftly defeated on their first invasion attempt and the Serbians start to advance towards Bosnia. The Drina river turns into the front line of the conflict, so the Austrians evacuate Višegrad and blow up portions of the bridge.
- Fiona Sampson (29 September 2012). "The book of a lifetime: The Bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andrić". the Independent. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
- The Bridge on the Drina, translated by Lovett F. Edwards (full-text)
- The Bridge on the Drina at the Ivo Andrić Foundation (English)