The Bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andrić

You have only to ocmpare various historical periods and you will see the progress and meaning of man’s struggle and therefore also the “theory” that gives sense and direction to that struggle. – XIX

The Bridge over the Drina is one of my new favourite books. It chronicles the story of the

797px-Visegrad_bridge_by_Klackalica
Višegrad – Old bridge over the river Drina Photo by: Aleksandar Bogicevic

people in Višgrad, a real town near the actual bridge Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, from it’s creation in the late 16th century to 1914 when it was bombed in real life. More than one story, the book is created by a set of short stories, glimpese into how the life of people living at this set place could have been and could have changed during the 350 years the books spans. The glimps were written by someone who both had a doctorate in the subject, (Ivo Andrić got his ph.d. in 1924 with the name of his thesis being “The Development of the Spiritual Life of Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Sovereignty”) and someone who spent part of his childhood in Višgrad.

images.duckduckgo.comThis could be the reason why the book has a pacing difficulty of sorts. In one sense I didn’t care, as I said it’s not a cohesive narrative, but I did find it odd that about 1/3 of the book covered the last 8 years of the 350 year long time line. This is natural as this would be the years Ivo spent in Višgrad and do point to the biggest strength of the book: Wow, this feel accurate. I studied cultural history in school and I’ve always said the difference between cultural history and “history” history is that cultural history is the history of the people. It’s the stories of the people in the streets living their lives the best they can. Yes, some have more power than others, but no-one has any political power to go to war or anything like this. This book felt like an incredible realistic depiction of the cultural history of this town and the people in it. Not that the people are real, but that what they represent is the real life. I loved that this book didn’t just show the cultural history of this town, but gave a very interesting take on how culture do change in 350 years. At a time where globalization and modernization is talked about so much as a threat to our identity and us as a group, it’s wonderful to see someone depict that this has been the case since groups became a thing. Even Socrates complained on the youth of the day ruining society.

Old ideas and old values clashed with the new ones, merges with them or existed side by side, as if waiting to see which would outlive which. – XI

The_Bridge_on_the_Drina
First edition

Who has power in a society changes, and these changes live on and muddle the water even when the group don’t know why. It shows how decisions made by people far away, as Višgrad is a small rural town, impact them both willingly and unwillingly. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long and complicated history, being under Turkey, Austria, having Serbians living there, connections with Balkan and of course the big wars that was fought around them. Ivo has a great way of talking relativistic how people on different stages would react to these things so much grander than the little town and small houses around them. About the violence and mistrust that seeped in, and how people yet managed to form bonds that lasted for years, and how people could be known long after their death. William H. McNeill did write “No better introduction to the study of Balkan and Ottoman history exists”. I will go one higher: Never before have I read such a great book that shows why history as a subject matters. That shows how we as a society change over 350 years.

I recommend this book not only for people interested in the history of that part of Europe, but also people who are interested in history as a subject and people interested in Nations and Culture as a subject. If you want to talk about how we are what we are, no matter the we you are referring to, this is a great what to learn how we do become we.

With a warning that history is filled with blood and violence, people and practices that make you angry, and incredible individuals.

I’ve also created a vlog where I use this book to discuss in what degree we should rely on facts in ficion:

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10 thoughts on “The Bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andrić

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  1. I first read this book whilst Yugoslavia was breaking up and found it more useful than anything else to help understand the history of the region. I loved the book so much that I sought out some more books by Andrić; they were good but not as much as this one. I’d like to give the others a re-read somewhen though.

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    1. I really want to read his other works considering how much I love this book, what other of his books have you read?

      And this book really helped me understand a part of history that was so close to me, but still a bit confusing (I was very young when Yugoslavia broke up and didn’t really understand what was going on, but there has been rippel effects that are still affecting things today, especially considering the Ottoman Empire)

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      1. I thought I’d read at least a couple more of his books but checking my records I realise that I’ve only read ‘Days of the Consuls’ aka The Bosnian Chronicles. As these, with Drina, form a trilogy with the third book ‘A Woman from Sarajevo’ it might be an idea to try to read the whole set.

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      2. I was thinking of trying to read the whole trilugy, good to know that they are translated into English. I will be forwarned that the book isn’t as good as Drina. Have you written a blogpost about Days of the Consuls? I tried to look it up, but there is not many reviews of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. No I read it pre-blog, pre-internet even, if you can imagine such a thing☺. As I’ve read Drina recently I’m tempted to continue with a re-read of Consuls and then Women. I’m not sure when though.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Please do, and then let me know what you think. There aren’t that many people talking about it in English (or Norwegian, but that doesn’t really surprise me) and it’s one of these books it’s interesting to hear what other people think about it.

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  2. An interesting review! Yes, The Bridge over the Drina is a great and important novel. It would be interesting to read it in parallel with The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare, which deals with a very similar topic from the Albanian perspective. Still, I have a few reservations regarding the book and its author. I found the impaling scene extremely graphic and much too long and detailed, to be honest. Readers should also know that Andric was an advocate of ethnic cleansing in his function as a high ranking diplomat and “expert” on ethnic questions that advised the Yugoslav Government in these matters. He was a strong supporter of the ideas of V. Cubrilovic, one of the surviving members of the group that murdered Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife, and that triggered WWI. Cubrilovic was rediscovered by Milosevic when he was high in his 80s and his “Handbooks” (originally written as policy papers for the Yugoslav Government) that recommended ethnic cleansing and murder of the Muslim population (Bosnians and Albanians) were published and praised decades after they were written and finally used as “practical manuals” in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo by the Serbs. Andric is the author of a similarly blunt text that recommends ethnic cleansing on a large scale in Kosovo and Northern Albania.
    It is not by coincidence that Emir Kusturica, the Serb ultra-nationalist and apologist of mass rape and murder, calls his mafia-financed construction project “Andricgrad”.

    I am going to such lengths here, because a lot of people think they can learn the truth about Balkan history from Andric’s novel, and they are usually not aware that Andric had a rather sinister political agenda, especially in the 1920s and 30s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your feedback on a topic I knew very little about. Personally, I don’t think you can talk about a single “truth” regarding history, but that there are several narratives that together create a larger narrative. I think you are right that often people hear one narrative and think of it as “THE” narrative. History is very often much more complex than that. I thought Andric pulled that off in the way he told his story, which was the main thing I fell in love with regarding his book.

      I haven’t heard aboutThe Three-Arched Bridge, but it sounds interesting. In my Europe Challenge I read Çajupi for Albania, and found him full of dry wit and dark humour. The books sounds similar, so I’m trying to find a copy to see if I will enjoy it as much as I did Çajupi.

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