Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Bridge on the Drina


Every once in a while I get lucky with a great book I never even knew existed. This time happened here in Kuwait where I found this epic novel in a collection of paperbacks stacked in boxes on the floor at the Kuwait Bookshops in Muthanna. This epic book is without a hero, or to be more accurate, the chronicle is about The Bridge on the Drina, located in the city of Visegrad in today’s Bosnia Herzegovina.

Written by Ivo Andrić, and first published in Serbo-Croat in 1945, the book is a study of Balkan and Ottoman history through the story of the bridge on the Drina. It covers a whole span of generations, nationalities and creeds. It tells about the lives of Catholics, Moslems and Orthodox Christians and their irreconcilable loyalties over the period from 1565 up until 1914. This is not a novel in the usual sense as the characters are numerous and the period covered is over three and a half centuries.

The following is an excerpt from chapter XIV describing the last quarter of the nineteenth century – during a rare lull in central European history:

“Such were those three decades of relative prosperity and apparent peace in the Franz-Joseph manner, when many Europeans thought that there was some infallible formula for the realization of a centuries-old dream of full and happy development of individuality in freedom and in progress, when the nineteenth century spread out before the eyes of millions of men its many-sided and deceptive prosperity and created its fata morgana of comfort, security and happiness for all and everyone.”

So many chronicles in the book are reminiscent of modern time, which tells us how little history has changed over the years, and how the most deplorable and tragic human weakness is our total incapacity for seeing into the future in spite of our skills and other gifts of knowledge. Some traits of human thought seem never to change, albeit in minor ways. It is why so many thoughts expressed in this narrative are reminiscent of our todays politicking; complete with the use of vague and high sounding words that explained nothing: freedom, future, history, science, glory, greatness!

Also while reading this book I noted many words now used in Arabic which had their origin in Ottoman lingo. Words like vakuf, merhaba, kadi, muezzin, askers, mikhtar, ulema, nizam, kiyamet and many more.

The author, so well devoted to the description of the bridge, one cannot but imagine sitting on the kapia of the bridge on the Drina, under the skies near the river and hills and thinking of generations and lives of people living through all conditions over centuries, marveling that such stories are conveyed in one book written by this unique author:

Andric in Višegrad

One lovely quote from the book describes forever thoughts for human kind “Forgetfulness heals everything and song is the most beautiful manner of forgetting, for in song man feels only what he loves.”